HAVEN — In Haven, what some agriculture students grow in their high school’s greenhouse, they and their friends eat for lunch in the cafeteria.
After helping the community raise money to build a greenhouse, the students in Baylee Knapp’s Greenhouse Management class are growing several different varieties of lettuce and micro-greens, which they are picking, washing and giving to the school cafeteria.
“We’re really excited. The lettuce that we’ve gotten out of it has been perfect,” said Sheree Jones, the food service director for Haven Schools Unified School District 312. “It looks fresher. It’s the most beautiful lettuce.”
Knapp, along with her 11 students, plan to add a variety of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and radishes to the list of food they supply the cafeteria. Several of the students already grow vegetables on their family’s land, but they are now learning best practices.
“I learned the pot sizes matter,” said Kendall Schoenhals, 17. “You also water the plants differently.”
Others, like Parker Barlow, 17, are interested in spacing and fertilizer. Kaylynn McNair, 15, likes to watch the plants grow.
“It shows how you can expand your future,” McNair said. “It really helps you get out of your comfort zone.”
Knapp teaches the students, who come from Yoder, Haven, Hutchinson and other parts of Reno County, how deep to plant the seeds, how to plan a garden, when and how to water, and how to run a greenhouse.
“They learn the basics,” she said, “but the basics go a long way.”
The students, are excited to share their knowledge with their parents and use their newfound experience to grow their own plants.
“I’m growing a butterfly bush in the greenhouse,” said Grace Sawatzky, 16. “I’m going to plant it at home.”
Jones, who already uses locally sourced Hudson Cream Flour from Stafford County and Hiland Dairy milk in her cafeterias, was so excited about Knapp’s greenhouse program that she wrote to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, who in turn, sent Knapp seeds to plant. KSDE made Haven a part of itsFarm to Plate Program.
A few other schools across Kansas have greenhouses. Medicine Lodge Junior Senior High School recently built a greenhouse. Schools in Atchison, Manhattan and Salina also share their outdoor garden’s produce with the cafeteria.
“In most cases, the ag teacher has been very important in the process,” said Barb Depew, KSDE project director of Farm to Plate. “It shows the students where the product comes from. It helps them look for healthier choices.”
High school greenhouses are not common, but elementary school greenhouses are rare. Two years ago, USD 444 Little River Elementary School in Windom put up a greenhouse. Each grade is responsible for a different vegetable or flower crop. These plants will be sold at a plant sale in April.
But the school also plants vegetables in an outside garden. Like in Haven, these vegetables are given to the cafeteria after harvest.
The students help with placing the seeds in the soil, watering, harvesting and washing. Along with gardening, they learn about nutrition and composting.
“We have kids who try salad for the first time,” said Aubrey Farmer, a second-grade teacher at Little River. “They are so proud.”
More than $70 million is spent annually on school lunches in Kansas, with, in 2014, slightly less than $2 million being reinvested in the community through Farm to Plate.
As of 2014, 44% of districts nationwide told the USDA they participate in a Farm to Plate Program, with 7,000 operating a school garden. By participating, those schools infused more than $750 million into their community. In Kansas, 33% participate.