Reaping What They Grow

A new greenhouse will offer hands-on learning for students in Trafalgar

By Rebecca Berfanger // Photography submitted

After realizing in summer 2021 that the old greenhouse — traditionally used by Indian Creek FFA students who coordinated the annual spring plant sale — would be in the path of construction for a new auditorium and fieldhouse for Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson United School Corporation, the administration started planning a new and improved year-round structure for students to have more hands-on opportunities to get their hands dirty. Really dirty.
The “Ready, Set, GROW” greenhouse is planned to be 40 feet by 96 feet. As of early February, it was on track to be available to students by the beginning of the 2023-24 school year. It will not only replace the old greenhouse, but provide an alternative classroom for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Administrators plan for it to include industry-equivalent technology, plus an opportunity for students to learn the various aspects of horticulture, agriculture, agribusiness, plant science, soil science and landscaping.
It will also fit into the school corporation’s overall goal to support not only the schools’ students, teachers and faculty, but the community at large, in tandem with the school corporation’s farm-to-table initiative and Creek Cattle Company.
“We have tremendous support already within our school community for all of our agricultural initiatives,” said Andrea Perry, assistant superintendent and spokesperson for the greenhouse project. “They are supporting everything we are doing with the farm-to-table initiative, Creek Cattle Company and the greenhouse.”
Given the community’s strong agricultural background, Superintendent Tim Edsell Ph.D., agreed that a new greenhouse was an easy sell to the community. Having the structure as an alternative classroom setting will also help the school corporation’s recently implemented graduation pathway program for high school students seeking employability skills in various agriculture related fields.
Because not everyone wants to pursue a college degree, Edsell said, “High schools need to provide different pathways. Whether it’s a medical pathway or fine arts. Here we have agriculture. It’s not just strongly supported by the community, it’s an industry you can do well in. There is so much that agriculture impacts. It’s a greenhouse, horticulture, all the different jobs that can be learned just by experiencing a greenhouse. Landscaping.”
The greenhouse won’t just help the students on the agriculture pathways in high school, but can potentially benefit students of all grade levels, Perry said.
“Let’s say with first-graders, in the past, they had a science lesson in the classroom with their teacher and they take a seed home in a little cup and that goes into the window at home,” she said. “But now, there will be an opportunity where the students, with that teacher, can go to the greenhouse and watch those plants grow over a certain amount of time.”
Younger students will also interact with their older peers in a mentorship relationship, she added.
“It’s an opportunity to build upon something that was maybe a one-time opportunity to work with a younger student, but creates more of an opportunity for them in this alternative setting of a greenhouse,” Perry said.
As for older students, she added, “We would really like for our middle-school students to have some experience in addition to what they’ve been doing in the classroom. So when they approach high school, they feel secure about a pathway they are choosing as a high school student. Once they are a high school student and they are on a particular pathway, whether that’s horticulture or whatever it might be, we want them to be in that setting where they are working with industry-equivalent technology, and they can work with the plants, work the business side, and really be ready for employability after high school or further education after high school.”
The FFA students will also have a space in the new greenhouse.
“They really headed-up the spring annual plant sale that we had. The new greenhouse will complement their efforts and give them the proper space to really grow in that [facility]. Students will not only learn how to grow and maintain the plants, but also the business side of a community sale,” Perry said.
While the greenhouse will be a place to grow and learn about all things plants, it will be done in tandem with another initiative, Creek Cattle Company, which is based on a program at Maconaquah school system.
Creek Cattle Company has given the students first-hand experience with cattle beef for about four years. Students are involved with feeding the cattle — even on non-school days, and ultimately, the beef is served in the school cafeteria a few times a year, Edsell said.
“We have students who are extremely passionate about animal science,” Perry said. “Our Creek Cattle Co. gives them that opportunity. We have students who are extremely passionate about plants, and the growth of those plants, so we have plant science and soil science pathways for them. But we also have students who are extremely passionate and interested about learning the business side of things. So no matter where the student’s interests lie, an opportunity like this gives them that pathway where they are prepared. It does complement many of our students, no matter where their interests may lie.”
Community support includes a total of almost $100,000 that has been secured by the school corporation, as of press time, for what is predicted to be a $400,000 price tag, including the estimated square footage of the greenhouse, plus all of the resources and requirements for equipment.
So far, financial support has been secured from Cummins Inc., a Johnson County Community Foundation Impact Grant, Johnson County REMC Operation Round-Up, Premier Ag and the Spriestersbach Farm Corporation Grant.
The school corporation also plans to support the community with the greenhouse and related agricultural programs.
“We’re preparing our students to develop some type of agribusiness or agricultural pathway where they may be able to stay local and help our economy in some capacity,” Edsell said as one of their long-term goals of the program.
Perry added that in the future, “Or goal would be for our students to be able to provide education to the community, potentially in collaboration with their teachers. It is an opportunity for our students to highlight what they’re learning and then continue that education pathway by teaching others in the community about what they have learned and passing that along.”