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New Plans Sprouting For Robertson County Greenhouse Program

Cody Evans, The Ledger Independent

The addition of a replacement greenhouse for the Robertson County School agriculture instruction program has led to broader opportunities for hands-on activities for students, officials said on Friday (Jan. 30).

When the district moved students to the new school campus in 2013, the plastic covered greenhouses which had been the base for horticultural instruction, and a fund-raiser site which helped offset the cost of the program, were surplussed and sold.

With bond funding secured in 2014, construction of the 30 feet by 90 feet, state of the art greenhouse was completed in October 2014, and almost immediately went into production.

“We have already harvested four flats of lettuce and have 12-15 more flats seeded,” said Frank Gifford, agriculture instructor. “We also have 20 tomato plants already up and some are producing.”

A flat could hold more than 200 individual plants, which are placed on a float system to germinate and grow.

Students are able to get a better idea of everything from plant germination planning to growing techniques and marketing strategies, he said.

“With this bunch of lettuce, we planted it at the same time but experimented with different lighting and heating,” Giffird said.

Some of the plants were almost salad size, while others were barely sprouted.

“It will all eventually grow, but at different rates, and with this the students can see that first-hand,” he said. “Lettuce has a 30 day turnaround and we are hoping to supply tomatoes by March.”

With a possible source of ready to eat vegetables just feet from the school cafeteria, the program has already been added to the Kentucky Proud Certified programs.

For student Dylan Maybrier, the program is giving him a base for a future in agriculture, he said.

“I like the idea of being in a job where I can work outdoors,” Maybrier said. “O like the lettuce program here because it seems fun.”

Gifford is working toward a Farm to School version of the Farm to Table program, which could supply fresh lettuce and tomatoes to the cafeteria.

“Two weeks ago we got an FFA Agriculture Achiever Grant for $2,500 through Kentucky Department of Agriculture to help us work in that direction,” Gifford said.

According to the KDA website, “We are committed to our farmers and our communities. Our goal is to bring high quality and fresh Kentucky Proud products to our school systems ... by supporting the Farm to School program it will allow kids to grow into healthier adults who are educated about local food production and who demand local products.”

Technology has helped give the students more opportunities, Gifford said.

“This greenhouse is climate controlled that we can change with the touch of a button. We couldn't do that with the old greenhouses,” he said. “Students can go from the classroom to the greenhouse and work in comfort.”

Heating and ventilation are automated and even the watering system has its own control system, mimicking a leaf becoming wet during misting, and shutting the system off until the mechanism dried and turned the water back on.

Having the facility available for year-round use means the quail program can also expand, inside the greenhouse, he said.

Currently the class has about 400 adult quail of two varieties, one producing a meat bird and the other Bob White game birds, an egg incubation and hatching area are also expected to produce 400 more chicks, in the next day or less – several quail chicks hatched during the interview – and a possible marketing program for the quail eggs as a dining consumer product is being reviewed.

“There are so many possibilities,” he said.

Eager to get a taste of the cherry tomatoes they have been nurturing, RCS senior Austin Fooks is enjoying the new equipment and a chance to learn more about growing techniques.

“I like learning about grafting, because I didn't think it was as it turned out to be,” Fooks said. “At the old greenhouses we did not have good equipment and couldn't do as much.”

Education opportunities at the greenhouse will not stop at the end of the school year, Gifford said.

“We have students who need SAE requirements to meet in the agriculture based projects program, so the mum projects can begin in the summer to be ready for the fall sale,” Gifford said.

Having the greenhouse product marketing program back after a year hiatus is a community event too, he said.

“You would not believe the number of people, hundreds a season, who would come to the greenhouses for their plants, and they missed not having us last year,” he said. “It is a good experience to have students interact with customers and help with their business skills training.”

The Ledger Independent is online at: http://www.maysville-online.com