Science teacher promoting project for growing food in district
By Kevin Boneske
A science teacher at Ashwaubenon High School is heading up an effort to raise $7,000 to build a greenhouse in the school’s courtyard.
“Probably about three or four years ago I started doing some work in our courtyard, which was pretty much an overgrown grassy area,” said Dan Albrent, who has been teaching science classes at AHS for seven years. “I’ve always kind of had a big push for growing local, fresh (food), and kind of getting kids to understand where their food comes from and how to grow it themselves.”
Over the past few years, Albrent said some food-related items, such as strawberries and raspberries, have been added to grow in the courtyard, where now only a tiny greenhouse exists.
“I just got tired of seeing, going to all kinds of other area schools and driving by and looking at these awesome greenhouses, and thinking of all the missed opportunities our students have to be learning about these things that you can learn with a greenhouse,” he said.
Albrent said he would like to see the items grown at AHS supply a large percentage of food to the high school and eventually other schools in the district by replacing the lunchroom food as much as possible with food grown locally inside a greenhouse.
“We’re going to tailor it to kind of the main stuff that they serve in our lunchroom and our culinary classes that we have here,” he said. “If culinary is doing some recipes that need peppers or various other types of greens or vegetables, that’s something that we can grow them a couple of months in advance and have it ready for them, in terms of the lunchroom, growing a lot of their greens, tomatoes, trying to get some indoor strawberries.”
Previously, Albrent said projects in the courtyard have been supported by grants or fundraisers, rather than receiving school district funds.
“We’ve gotten a lot of great support for doing a lot of stuff, but in terms of getting money from (the school district), that’s been a little tight, in terms of trying to get it through them,” he said. “Kind of the best possible way that we could come up with was to put our idea out there and see if there’s enough people that would be willing to kind of support it.”
Albrent has set up a Go Fund Me account online at gofundme.com/AHSGreenhouse, which features a YouTube video about foods grown in the courtyard. The fund drive already exceeded $1,500 of the $7,000 goal as of Monday, April 30.
“We kind of made the (Go Fund Me) account and we’re kind of prepping – we’ve written over 100 letters to local area businesses that will be sent out, and then I’ve been kind of talking about it with our students and just asking them for their support,” he said. “I sent out a message on my Twitter account with kind of a personal account of why it is kind of my passion for wanting to build a greenhouse, and we’ve gotten support from the school and the administration, and so far a lot of former students and current students are really supporting it.”
Albrent said he would like to raise enough funds to build a 24×30-foot greenhouse with an irrigation system and have the structure insulated enough and heated to be able to grow food year-round.
“Last year we were able to grow and harvest around 100 heads of lettuce that we distributed around the district,” he said. “This year that may not be possible with the kind of late growing season. In the fall we’d grow a little batch of lettuce, but all throughout winter, which was longer than normal this year, we really weren’t able to do much of anything. And so, extending our growing season, and even going through the winter, we’d be able to provide more stuff for everyone all year-round.”
Albrent said he was been working with the district’s nutrition coordinator, Betsy Farah, regarding the locally grown food that could be provided for lunch at school.
“She’s come through and has kind of looked at some of the lettuce operations that we have,” he said. “She’s very willing to buy whatever that we can grow, and our lunch staff washes it up, prepares it and serves it.”
Albrent said he hopes the greenhouse project will be able to involve tech ed students in the construction, as well as the culinary classes in the preparation of the food grown for meals and his own science classes for growing the food.
As for the plans to build the greenhouse, Albrent said he hopes to have raised enough money by the end of this school to purchase a kit to construct a large greenhouse and then in the summer or fall begin the construction to have the greenhouse completed this fall and operational in the spring of 2019.