About a year ago, Excelsior Academy eighth graders approached school administration with an idea: Let’s build a greenhouse. There was no budget for such a project, so the enterprising eighth graders started collecting plastic bottles.
Though the students initially asked for two liter bottles they intended to use to construct a greenhouse, as word spread through the community, businesses and residents began sending monetary donations. By the end of the school year, they had a budget.
Six weeks ago, the charter school in Erda broke in its new professional-grade greenhouse with a crop of peas, beans, tomatoes and flowers.
The greenhouse garden is maintained by the school’s Green Thumbs club, a group of 18 to 33 students who meet twice a week during their last class hour to tend the garden. Brad Hendershot, their adviser and junior high science teacher, uses the club’s meetings as an opportunity to lead discussions about agriculture and sustainability.
It’s a good curriculum, he said, and so far has proven very popular with the students. Interest is so high that participation had to be capped, especially during the winter months, when there is less work to go around.
“I think almost every kid in the junior high has been in this club at some point of the year,” said Hendershot.
The project was just as popular with the local community, which not only donated enough funds to construct a 10 foot by 14 foot greenhouse out of professional materials, but also donated dozens of pots and thousands of plants and seeds to get the greenhouse off the ground. The structure sports a 12-foot ceiling, shelving and raised garden beds.
“It’s a professional set-up, and we’re going to do some really cool stuff with it,” Hendershot said.
There are also plans in the works to landscape the area around the greenhouse with native foliage, but probably not until the weather warms again, he said. Until then, what the students raise will be donated to the school cafeteria. For some students, it may be the first time they’ve eagerly anticipated eating their vegetables.
“There’s just something exciting about watching plants grow, knowing that you did that yourself and that you’re part of something bigger than yourself,” said Hendershot.