Weaver Street grant installs elementary greenhouse

Thanks in part to a grant from the Weaver Street Market Cooperative Community Fund, Kim Daniel and Jennifer Carson from Grady A. Brown Elementary School are able to install a new greenhouse for the students.

Jennifer Carson (left), Sucovis Hester (center) and Kim Daniel (right) plan to have the greenhouse fully installed by mid-winter. Once the doors are added, teachers will be able to use the greenhouse to incorporate science and agriculture projects into the curriculum.
Jennifer Carson (left), Sucovis Hester (center) and Kim Daniel (right) plan to have the greenhouse fully installed by mid-winter. Once the doors are added, teachers will be able to use the greenhouse to incorporate science and agriculture projects into the curriculum.

The new greenhouse is a replacement for a greenhouse purchased in 1995, with money from a Piedmont Electric grant.

Kim Daniel, the first grade teacher who applied for the original grant, remembers the old greenhouse fondly. “It was awesome. We had heat, we had electricity, we had running water – it was very nice,” she said. “You could probably fit two classrooms in there.”

However, in 2010, Grady A. Brown Elementary had to say goodbye to the 15-year-old greenhouse.

“It had pretty much aged itself out,” Daniel said.

Though its unknown whether or not students were involved, people would frequently break into the greenhouse over the weekend, often leaving supplies and projects destroyed. The price of upkeep and replacements skyrocketed.

“It was awful,” she said. “The expensive to make it so that we could actually be safe in there was just astronomical.”

But the greenhouses legacy lives on. Using funds raised from plants that were grown in the greenhouse over the years, Grady A. Brown Elementary was able to purchase a replacement just a year later, in 2011.

“When that one was just in such disrepair, we were so sad,” Daniel said. “We went and begged, ‘We’ve got to have another greenhouse!,’ so that’s how this one came to be.”

Jennifer Carson, an assistant for the third grade and the main grant writer from the PTA for the project, has worked with Daniel throughout the process to ensure the new greenhouse will be functional soon.

“What we didn’t have was the funds to install it, and that’s how we came to the Weaver Street grant,” Carson said.

The Cooperative Community Fund

The $750 grant, awarded to Grady A. Brown Elementary School at the Weaver Street Market annual meeting in September, was used to purchase the concrete and the gravel inside the greenhouse, as well as to purchase the proper permits for Orange County, according to Carson.

The Weaver Street Market’s Cooperative Community Fund (CCF) is an endowment fund whose interest is donated to nonprofit groups with projects that focus on “sustainable agriculture and organic food, hunger and malnutrition, environmental protection, and cooperatives,” according to the Weaver Street Market website.

Other recipients of the grant this year were Transplanting Traditions Community Farms, with a project to train Burmese refugee youth to run a farmer’s market, and TABLE, with a new “Garden Initiative” project that will grow a portion of the vegetables used in its Weekend Meal Backpack Program.

A collaborative effort

Installing the greenhouse has been largely a collaborative effort among staff and parents at the school. Daniel and Carson emphasize the help they received from Sucovis Hester, a data manager at the elementary school, and her husband, Malcolm, throughout the experience.

“His family donated a lot of time, knowledge, and planning. He went through the permitting to get this installed, so they spent a lot of time getting organized,” Carson said.

Daniel added, “Saturdays and Sundays putting it together too!”

According to Daniel, the Hester family was also involved in the installation of the original greenhouse.

Because Grady A. Brown Elementary pulls students from a very rural community, Carson said that it’s not difficult to get student and their families interested in the project.

The original greenhouse was supplied with kits from local greenhouses as well as donations from families, Daniel said. “Many children came from farms and already have some background knowledge.”

Only one step remains to getting the greenhouse up and running: “Right now we have an installed greenhouse,” Daniel said. “It just needs some doors.”

Carson believes it’ll most likely be mid-to-late winter before the greenhouse is fully functional for students. She hopes to start planting seedlings in January and February and have things growing in the greenhouse by March.

Greenhouse projects

The greenhouse won’t carry with it any specific school-wide programming for classrooms, but instead presents the opportunity for teachers to incorporate any garden-based project into their curriculum, from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“What’s going to happen in this space is obviously anything science related, agriculture related – anything teachers want to do with their class rooms, they can do that,” Carson said.

In conjunction with the greenhouse projects, every kindergarten class has a raised bed within their playground. The children will be able to grow vegetables during the spring and fall.

She was also excited about several projects of her own she plans to incorporate for the students: lasagna beds and vermicomposting.

The lasagna beds will be used to grow seedlings in the greenhouse.

“It’s a sustainable agriculture practice where you just layer – that’s the lasagna piece,” Carson explained. “You layer cut grass and cardboard and peat most and more cut grass and veggies up and up and up.”

Vermicomposting is a program Carson introduced to the third grade last year. “It’s fabulous, it’s just a fancy word for worm composting.”

Vermicomposting creates a mixture of decomposing vegetables or food waste, bedding materials, and worm manure by red wigglers, white worms, and earthworms.

According to the NC Cooperative Extension program from North Carolina State University, vermicomposting has been shown to boost nutrients for plants, enhance soil structure and drainage, increase plant growth and suppress plant disease and insect pest attacks.

According to Carson, several teachers are already planning programming that incorporates the greenhouse. One teacher has expressed interest in studying invasive plants species vs. native plant species, and another plans to compare the products from the hydroponics she uses in her classroom with what’s being grown in the greenhouse.

Carson is planning on a wide variety of projects in the greenhouse. “It’s going to go from anything like how can we improve the soil, to how can we improve the way things are grown in various environments, to growing food and plants for Mother’s Day,” she said.

The greenhouse will be used in conjunction with raised beds, purchased for the kindergarten classes by another grant, explained Daniel, who will be using her personal agriculture background to assist the kindergarten teachers.

“They’re going to grow some spring veggies in those beds within their own playground, so its super successful for the little people,” she said.

With two raised beds on either side of the building, one for each kindergarten class, there will be a crop rotation with spring and fall crops. The beds were built to be deep enough for carrots and potatoes.

Based on the reaction of students from agricultural projects they’re already working on, both Carson and Daniel are confident the greenhouse will be a hit.

“We’re doing small groups right now with plants in the first grade,” Daniel said. “They get really into it. They want to know everything about seeds and everything about plants.”

Carson believes it’s the hands-on aspect that the students enjoy. “The fact that they can put their hands in the dirt and plant a seed and watch it grow, rather than looking at it on a worksheet and trying to picture it – that’s a lot more enjoyable for them,” she said. “And for us too!”

No matter what project the students of Grady A. Brown Elementary work on in the greenhouse, Daniel hopes that they all take away the same thing:

“A love of the different things in science they can do. They already have that love, they just need somebody to nurture it.”

Author of the article

Staff writer for the Carrboro Commons