Colby greenhouse plants seeds for change |

Colby greenhouse plants seeds for change

The Colby School is growing, plants that is.

With the help of their new greenhouse, completed last fall, the students are growing wetland plants for the Swaner Nature Preserve which will be taken there in August. The planting is part of the school’s Sandhill Crane Project which started during the 2005-06 school year. For the project, students are working to restore the natural habitat of the sandhill crane at the preserve so the birds will have a place to nest.

Science enrichment teacher Sophie Moffat said the aim was to help students understand how plants, animals, water and soil are all interconnected. Some of the other project objectives include learning how people impact natural resources, plant classification, and using GPS technology to track plants on the restoration site.

"They liked it because they worked on a lot of different things," Moffat said of the students.

First-grade teacher Joanne Staral said the greenhouse has created many hands-on opportunities for the students.

"We call the greenhouse our living lab," she said.

Since building the greenhouse, it has been used in a number of ways by the students. Currently, the school is selling vegetables they have grown to patrons at the local farmers market. Students manning the booths are knowledgeable about the different plants and can describe the differences between similar-looking foods. Some of what they sell can be purchased in ceramic pots hand painted by the students. The money they earn goes back into supporting the greenhouse.

Moffat’s six year-old daughter has taken an interest in eating salads after becoming involved in the greenhouse, and she can tell you about the different types of basil, Moffat said. Other children have been equally interested in what is being grown in the greenhouse.

"They love to go there throughout the year," Moffat said. "In the summer camps they have been doing things in the greenhouse."

Joanne Staral, a first-grade teacher and self-proclaimed avid gardener, said there is more to come.

"We’re just scratching the surface of what we can do," she said.

Staral said the greenhouse can be used for art classes where students can sketch plants, as well as create a place of reflection for journaling or even plant a pizza garden.

Another of her hopes, she said, is to make it more available to the community.

Colby’s after-school gardening program is open to all children in the area in grades K-8, where students can come garden for an hour once a week, and volunteers are always welcome, Staral said.

They are also looking to implement a CSA or Community Sustained Agriculture program where families can sign up to get a crop of vegetables from the greenhouse.

Staral’s favorite thing about having the building has been watching the students work.

"The kids’ response has been amazingly positive, they’re really excited about it," Staral said.

She noted that as the younger students become interested in gardening, the school is instilling a lifelong love for the work. Also, many of the children are encouraging parents to start gardening at home.

Staral credits greenhouse manager Daisy Fair, whom she calls a "gardening wizard" for promoting this enthusiasm in students.

"She loves what she’s doing and the kids can tell," Staral said.

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