CASPER, Wyo. — Student-grown plants, sprouting and green, are basking inside of the new Journey Elementary School Greenhouse.
The kids came into the greenhouse on Friday, June 7, collecting seedlings they’d planted to take home to their parents.
The students joined the Casper Community Greenhouse Project for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate a project that’s been two years in the works.
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“We got it up and running in April,” Director LeAnn Miller said. “Our whole mission has been to educate in a community manner that is growing.”
The greenhouse, and an outdoor community gardens planned for the future, will offer a resource for Journey students and teachers to facilitate learning.
“School Gardens can serve as living classrooms or outdoor laboratories where children can apply academic subjects such as natural sciences, mathematics, languages and even fine arts,” the Casper Community Garden Project website says. “Children can practice their social and life skills and learn, hands-on, how to grow healthy food and eat well while developing healthy behaviors around food and nutrition.”
“Gardens integrated into the school setting have shown student increased preference of vegetables, increased fruit and vegetable consumption, increased children’s knowledge about the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables, as well as improved student achievement, life skills, social skills and behavior.”
“You can incorporate any subject,” Miller said, adding that the greenhouse will support not only science, but math and English learning as well.
Journey tutor Jennifer Leimback has been closely involved with the project and said that she’ll be helping with a summer Junior Master Gardener program.
“It’s full right now,” Leimback said. “We’re starting kind of small but we have a lot of plans.”
Some of Journey’s incoming first through fifth-graders will participate in the program in which they’ll have the chance to grow their own plants, learn about gardening and think about where food comes from.
The Junior Master Gardener program has a curriculum with a theme of “Learn, Grow, Eat, Go.”
“It’s a standardized curriculum,” Miller said.
The five week program includes ten lessons drawn from the standard curriculum with five extra classes as well.
Miller added that one key to the curriculum is incorporating physical activity for the children. She said that the curriculum has been demonstrated to improve a school’s overall science scores if it is offered in concert with physical activity for the students.
Some students talked about the seedlings they’d planted.
“I grew dill weed,” one boy said. “I planted the seeds. I watered it sometimes.”
“I grew tomatoes and lettuce,” a girl chimed in.
Their classmate said she’d chosen to grow thyme.
The students came up with their own greenhouse rules, which were posted on the wall of the greenhouse:
They also explained how features of their greenhouse work, including a hydroponic and aquaponic system.
Leimback explained that the systems are similar but that the aquaponic system uses fish.
“The fish waste is what feeds the plants,” she said, adding that the fish-inhabited water is pumped up into the grow bed. “It’s more efficient than growing in soil.”
“The only input is your fish food,” Mark Nelson, who works at the Evansville Elementary Greenhouse and came to check out what’s going on at the Journey version, said.
Americorps National Civilian Community Corps volunteers have been helping Leimback at the greenhouse, finishing out a ten month service term.
Volunteer Alison Peters said that the group includes 18-24 year olds from places like Georgia, New York, Wisconsin and North Carolina.
Fellow volunteer Gogo Cange said they’d been helping students transplant their seedlings when they outgrow starter-pots and helping teach students about nutrition and where their food comes from.
Miller said that the Casper Community Greenhouse Project used some of the $191,000 in grant funding provided by the City of Casper from One-Cent sales tax dollars in 2014.
More will be done at the Journey project site, including a sensory garden for Journey’s pre-school students, Miller said. But that project is on hold until the school district remediates erosion from a hill behind the school and next to the gardens.
“The Casper Community Greenhouse Project’s mission is to build greenhouses in a way that fosters and educates its community about health, agriculture and nutrition,” President Jude Buchanan-Sandoval said.
“This greenhouse is one of a few matching our mission and we hope that it will be one of many in the years to come.”
The students laid out a vision of the future as well: