Fundraising has brought the idea close to reality
By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Little Falls Schools would like to replace the 1972 greenhouse on the east side of the school with another. The current structure has become too small, a mere 280 square feet, to accommodate all the classes that utilize it, and it is highly inefficient.
“The current greenhouse is used by three different classes,” said Doug Ploof, the Little Falls Community High School’s (LFCHS) vocational agriculture teacher. “The natural resources classes use it to grow prairie plants. The plant science classes use the greenhouse for experimenting with fertilizers, gravity, light and hormones. The horticulture classes work in the greenhouse when seed propagating, taking cuttings and dividing plants. We are always growing plants and experimenting with bettering agriculture.”
The extreme cold snap in mid-January killed many of the plants in the greenhouse.
Ploof said the 40-year-old building is made up of aluminum framing and single pane glass sections with no insulation. The school’s boiler/heating system is not able to keep up with the cold and the inefficiency of the glass.
“The district is looking to build another greenhouse in the same location, just bigger and more efficient,” he said. “The new one will be 768 square feet, three times larger than what we are working with now. The plans are to begin building this summer.”
During classes, students find it necessary to split up. Some work inside the school while others work in the greenhouse. There is not enough working room for all of them at the same time. Ploof and other teachers run back and forth between work areas to monitor the students. He said it’s a very inefficient way to teach.
To date, the students and the school have raised more than $21,000 for the new greenhouse. Tree sales raised $11,000, the Carl Perkins Fund gave them $6,000, a $3,000 grant was received from the Stearns County Veterinarians Association and local businesses have helped with $1,200.
They need $28,050 to complete the project.
“I wanted to get this project going for a long time, but up until now, I received no response from the administration,” said Ploof.
The proposed greenhouse will be constructed with double-paned, high-impact and multi-skinned plastic panels, called Acrylite, instead of glass. Ploof said it could save upwards of $2,000 in heating costs.
Students in the building construction classes will be utilized to dig the footings and set the footing forms on the new building.
The new greenhouse will also be a must with the expanded “Farm to School” program. When it began, the program had the district partnering with local farms and cooperatives to supply fresh food for students and staff in the schools’ lunchrooms.
The expanded program will have students and staff growing their own food at the Franciscan Sisters Community Gardens. Little Falls has reserved about 1 1/2 acres and the produce will supply the schools. The seedlings will be started by the horticultural students in the new greenhouse beginning in the spring of 2014.
“We hope to have the greenhouse erected in June, too late to start seedlings for this year’s garden,” said Ploof. “While some seedlings will be planted in the current greenhouse this spring, it won’t be enough. We will be buying a lot of our plants for this year’s garden.”
For the past five-six years, horticultural students have worked in Sister Ruth Lentner’s gardens at the St. Francis Convent. They have helped prune trees, raspberries and grapes, dig potatoes and transplant seedlings. This planned endeavor is not completely new to the school and its students.
Ploof said both the students and staff are excited about the idea. The plan is to get as many classes involved as possible, such as the Family and Consumer Services class to use the produce when cooking.
“Even the school cooks are getting involved. Several will be working during the summer putting up the produce either by canning or freezing,” said Ploof. “They will be making salsa and other foods, too.”
No chemicals will be used in growing the food, said Ploof. The students will use organic compost and/or manure from organic farmers. The beds will be mulched to reduce the need for watering and the classes will experiment with raised beds.
“We plan to rent a machine to put down plastic on the rows of mounds. That will reduce the need to weed and the soil will stay warmer,” said Ploof. “Between the rows, we are planting oats, similar to grass, to reduce the need to weed in those areas. Water lines will also be added beneath the mounds, hooked to a hydrant.”
Ploof said the school will use organic, non-genetically modified seeds in its garden. The acreage being used is separated from other community plots by a barrier of trees to reduce or eliminate any wind pollination that may occur.
The district’s garden plot will be taken care of by three students and one mentor during the summer, all paid positions. The district’s food service provider will purchase the produce to use in the school.
“This program is similar to the one Superintendent Stephen Jones implemented at Sibley East District before he came to Little Falls,” said Ploof.