Students at Manitowoc's McKinley Academy are helping revolutionize the way food is grown.
The students, who are part of the charter school's Success Through Empowering Experiences and Rigor (STEER) program, are working on building a greenhouse they'll use to grow a variety of food.
The group hopes to have the greenhouse, which will be movable, up and running before summer.
That's the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to fill the greenhouse.
"The idea is to get kids to experience things rather than just sit and learn about them," said teacher Gina Wagner, who works with Bonnie Luckow in the STEER program. "The students are in charge of this ... but we all help each other. We want them to learn real-life skills ... and the greenhouse is just another opportunity to do some real-life work that can open them up to possible careers in the future, or to just teach them how to have their own garden."
Thankfully for the students, they're teaming up with two AmeriCorps Farm to School project members who are expanding the students' horizons in ways they never knew possible.
Each student, or teams of students, have been tasked with creating a project to help fill the greenhouse.
Some students are focusing on leafy plants that can be used in healthy, organic and tasty salads. Others are creating an aquaponics system to help fertilize the other projects. Some are even attempting to bring some tropical flourish to the greenhouse.
The students were aided in their projects by taking a trip last week to Growing Power in Milwaukee, where they got to see their hopes and dreams in action while learning how to make those goals a reality.
The trip helped each student iron out exactly what they want to do within the greenhouse.
Collin Pagel will be focusing on mushrooms.
"There are areas shaded off because of shelves, so it's the perfect spot to grow mushrooms," Pagel said. "I did a bunch of research (after the trip) and it's really cool because the mushrooms generally regrow themselves. They grow through Mycelium, and to make Mycelium, you just need one mushroom. That one mushroom can make like 30 mushrooms."
Delaney Hutchinson will be working to grow things that may be able to pair with those mushrooms for a nice salad.
"I want beets and leafy greens because I thought it would be cool at the end of the school year to do a whole school salad bowl," Hutchinson said.
Aaron Newby and Lucas Debausch will be making sure the other projects have the nutrients needed to grow by creating an aquaponics system that will use fish waste as fertilizer.
"There's a reservoir of fish — we're going to use tilapia, but you can also use perch or even goldfish — and the fish waste is used to help the plants grow," Newby said. "What generally happens is the fish eat, and then the excrement is refined through bacteria eating out all of the ammonia, which turns into nitrogen, which causes the plants to have a completely natural fertilizer that's completely renewable."
Added Debausch: "The plants seem to have a quicker grow rate with (aquaponics systems). We figured it would be cool to get as many plants as we can during the growing season."
Mariah Risch is the student bringing some tropical flair to the project. She said after seeing a palm tree flourishing in Milwaukee, she knew she had to bring some fun in the sun to Manitowoc.
"I want to put some kind of tropical plant in there," Risch said. "When we went to Milwaukee, they had a palm tree with some kind of vine growing to the ceiling that had tropical flowers coming out of it. I think that's so cool that you can bring a plant here that's totally not from here and grow it."
The greenhouse isn't going to be huge, so the students are going to have to make every inch available work for them. Luckily, they have Malik Thomson ready with a plan he learned during the trip to utilize the greenhouse's vertical space.
"We're going to have an 8-by-12 greenhouse," Thomson said. "It was cool seeing how (Growing Power) had things growing vertically. They had more room than we have, but we'll be able to use that plan to save space and use our space wisely so we have room for everything."
As the old saying goes, it takes a community to raise a child. In this case, it's taking a community to help the children raise a greenhouse.
AmeriCorps members Celeste Orheim and Amber Daugs, who is also a part of Manitowoc's Grow It Forward, are helping connect the students with community members who can help with materials and ideas.
"We're connecting the students with people that have experience in this kind of thing to help them figure what needs to be done, while allowing the students to do it themselves," Daugs said.
And by doing it themselves, the students will be able to reward themselves and their classmates with tasting sessions planned after the crops reach maturity.
Hutchinson hopes to use her products to expand the lunches at the school.
"Our lunches here, I think the portions are really small because it's the same portions as for elementary kids," Hutchinson said. "I think it would be cool to have these things in our lunches so we can get our school involved and teach them the difference between the food that comes in a package and food that comes from a greenhouse."
That's one of the other main goals of the project. The students hope to teach their community the importance of organic, locally-grown food as opposed to food shipped all over the country that doesn't contain the same nutrients as the food produced in a place such as their greenhouse.
Kyrsti Nelson said she's ready to give people a glowing recommendation after trying the food in Milwaukee.
"That food tasted so much better," Nelson said. "Those snap peas; I've never had anything like it in my life. It was so good. I hope ours is that good."
Those aren't the only reasons Nelson will be promoting what they grow, however. Nutrition has a lot to do with it, too.
"After something is picked, four or five days later, it's already lost 50 percent of its nutritional value," Nelson said. "Most of the things you buy in the grocery store have traveled a long way to get to the store. With ours and food like it, it can be picked that morning and served later that day. That gets you the most nutrients."
And that's what the greenhouse is all about, getting the healthiest, tastiest food onto plates.
Now, the waiting game is on to see what these kids can grow.
The above article was written by Marcus Nesemann for the Herald Times Reporter. Please visit www.htrnews.com for more education related stories.