Schools Use Greenhouses To Cultivate New Customers

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From a financially troubled school district in Oregon to a Massachusetts college, educational programs around the country are realizing the benefits of having their own greenhouses.

For those in the Myrtle Point school district in Oregon, the new greenhouse will be used to teach children the benefits of healthy eating by teaching them to grow their own edibles. According to an article from The World, Dr. Mike Lanza, a Coos Bay pediatrician, donated the $3,400 greenhouse to Myrtle Crest Elementary School on May 11.

Both Lanza and a fifth grade teacher at Myrtle Crest Elementary, Irene Logan, wanted to use the greenhouse to instill healthy habits in the students.

‘It’s amazing how many kids end up loving tomatoes if they get to grow them,” Logan told The World.

Lanza’s hope is that each year a different school within the district will receive a greenhouse. Although the focus of the initiative is to get kids to eat more veggies, having a greenhouse means more kids are getting their hands dirty. With the construction of the greenhouse, the school district has invested in the green industry and cultivated new customers by tapping into a younger generation of potential garden lovers.

Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., has also jumped on the educational bandwagon by constructing a new greenhouse on the rooftop of the school’s Mars Center for Science and Technology. According to an entry on the Norton Patch page for the greenhouse’s open house event on May 18, the 1,200-square-foot structure has space for rainforest, desert and temperate environments, as well as a student and faculty research center.

As the article points out, botanists may use the greenhouse for learning about plant diversity, while genetics classes learn about cross-pollination. The space is also open to art students looking to sketch a living still life and researchers interested in tweaking variables to create the ideal growing conditions for different plant varieties.

While both schools have opted to use the structures as teaching tools, some are also realizing the money-making opportunities of growing and selling plants.

At Niagara College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake campus in Ontario, Canada, the greenhouse serves a dual purpose. For the past 15 years, the on-campus greenhouse has inspired students to get involved in the green industry.

“This isn’t chalk-and-talk, it’s a wonderful classroom and the type of student we attract wants this hands-on experience,” said Jim Thomson, manager of campus development and the greenhouse, to the Welland Tribune. “And it’s nice to work with these students, when you see how they are excited they are by what they’re doing here.”

In addition to cultivating the growers of tomorrow, the news source also reports that the greenhouse produces plants that will be sold to the public, including marigolds, petunias, impatiens, poinsettias and garden chrysanthemums. Customers can purchase fresh-from-the-greenhouse tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and herbs, as well.

The revenue from these plants, which are sold to local residents, Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario, and commercial landscaping businesses, allows the college to offset production costs, invest in new equipment and update the greenhouse.

The effects are cyclical — the program cultivates future customers by getting them interested in horticulture, and these new customers re-invest in the industry when they are ready to grow similar products as part of a job or in their gardens at home. And it all starts with a program that instructs students and invests in green products.

“You’re in the field, working with people who’ve worked in the field and have experience hands-on themselves, which is really nice,” Graham Boaretti, a 20-year-old Niagara-on-the-Lake resident who appreciates the value of the program, told the Welland Tribune. “You’re doing everything you would be doing at a job — that’s fantastic. That’s the best way to learn, I find.”

Karli Petrovic is associate editor of Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center. You can eMail her at kapetrovic@meistermedia.com.
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