Walker Elementary looking to expand greenhouse program

FoodCorps associate to start work at school in August
By Ben Holbrook | Jul 19, 2012
Photo by: Ben Holbrook Walker Elementary School Principal Glen Widmer stands in the school's greenhouse where students and volunteers grow a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Liberty — Walker Elementary School is adding a FoodCorps associate to help expand the greenhouse that is used as a hands-on lab for students.

The greenhouse was constructed in 2000 after the school received an anonymous donation and since then, it has served as an outdoor classroom for students by tying certain elements of the curriculum to the process of growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables.

“The greenhouse is largely connected to science, but we have connected it to some math and writing as well,” Walker Elementary Principal Glen Widmer said. “We had the third graders do a survey and out of the 50 people it was sent to we got 32 responses for what people wanted grown.”

By using the survey, students were given the opportunity to determine what percentage of the respondents wanted specific items grown in the greenhouse, Widmer said.

Utilizing the greenhouse as a classroom is a benefit to the school, Widmer said. By bringing on a FoodCorps member he hopes the program will grow even more.

“Katie Morabito is coming August 20 and she already has a background in farming and working with kids, which is perfect,” he said. “The hope is that she will act as kind of a liason between the teachers, volunteers and community to expand the program.”

Morabito will be at Walker Elementary for a year and her position is paid for mostly through federal funding. However, Widmer said the school is required to contribute $5,000 towards her stipend. He is unsure at the moment where the money will come from, but he said he has a few ideas for how the funding may be raised.

In addition to having Morabito work to expand the current program, Widmer said the school would like to have students design raised beds next to the greenhouse in an effort to grow even more produce that can then be brought into the cafeteria.

“Our greenhouse is a kind of a pilot program, so the goal is to double the amount of food coming from the greenhouse that then goes into the cafeteria,” Widmer said. “The goal is also to have the students design the raised bed gardens and help order the materials.”

One of the positive effects of growing fruits and vegetables is to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables and gives students the chance to taste a variety of produce.

“I remember there was one student who walked in and said ‘let the eating begin,” Widmer said. “That’s what we really love to see. There’s a lot of eating that goes on in the greenhouse.”

Making the greenhouse more energy efficient is also is also important to Widmer who said he has some idea for getting students design ways to lesson the carbon footprint of the structure. He said he tried a similar project at Troy Howard Middle School and one group of students came up with a proposal to install solar panels on the school’s greenhouse.

As teachers and administrators continue to look at ways to boost learning opportunities for students in the greenhouse, Widmer said he hopes the program will continue to grow.

“The students love it. They love being in a different learning environment,” he said.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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