Heat-powered greenhouse

Published in FSD K-12 Spotlight

By 
Mallory Szczepanski, Digital Production Editor

greenhouse-students

Students tasting produce grown in the greenhouse.

A greenhouse isn’t a new concept. How one Iowa woman is powering her greenhouse is, however. In mid-2011, Jan Swinton, the local food coordinator at Pathfinders Resource Conservation and Development, applied for a USDA farm-to-school grant to help her provide locally sourced food to Fairfield Community School District students. Her wish was granted, but only $12,000 of the $100,000 grant was allocated to the greenhouse project, leaving Swinton to raise $88,000 on her own for water, electric and heat.

After multiple pitches and agreement declines, she started a greenhouse with the help from the grant and a generous neighbor, Schaus-Vorhies Kleaning, a company that uses heat to clean and strengthen metals. Swinton started growing vegetables by tapping unused heat from the company (it is captured and pumped to the greenhouse through underground tanks and pipes) and Schaus-Vorhies even agreed to pay for the greenhouse’s water and electricity for the next 25 years.

The greenhouse is part of a push by the USDA and districts to incorporate more locally sourced food into schools; 100% of the produce grown in the greenhouse goes to Fairfield Public School cafeterias. Swinton sells directly to the school and has a board of 10 advisors with which she works.

Providing a hands-on environment, Swinton hosts students in the greenhouse to learn more about growing vegetables and to see where the heat comes from. From pea shoots to mustard greens, students are becoming heavily involved with planting veggies and educating themselves about produce.

“Students love hearing about the heat, seeing the tanks underground and learning about how the heat grows vegetables,” Swinton says. Right now, the most popular item grown in the greenhouse is romaine lettuce; about 270 heads are used each week.

“Our science teacher Cory Klehm has been very hands-on with the greenhouse by promoting it in the lunch room and taking kids to the greenhouse for field trips,” says Fred McElwee, director of auxiliary services at Fairfield. “We have been pleasantly surprised by the interest students have for wanting to volunteer in the greenhouse.”

The district is currently in the introductory stage of incorporating the greenhouse veggies in lunch menu options and so far has added the items only to salad bars and salads. Klehm hopes to see a wider variety of produce grown in the greenhouse for upcoming school years. 

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
eggs

Loyola University Maryland took a new approach to all-day breakfast with an egg-focused concept.

Breakfast options were top of mind for students when asked what they would like to see on the menu at the university’s revamped Boulder Garden Cafe. Instead of creating an all-day breakfast station, however, the Baltimore-based dining team went beyond traditional options and created a concept that services all mealparts with eggs.

“It can be somewhat mundane,” says Executive Chef Don Crowther on why the team strayed away from the trendy all-day breakfast. At the eatery’s Sunny...

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Kansas has added a retail pass that allows students to purchase one to-go combo meal per day at cafes and markets on campus, the University Daily Kansan reports.

The pass is available on two different meal plans and is geared toward on-the-go students who don’t have the time to sit down and eat at a residence hall.

“It has increased the participation rate,” Jamie Reed, a service assistant for the school’s dining services, told the University Daily Kansan.

Over 1,800 students have used the pass since its debut at the beginning of the semester....

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Minnesota dining team has created a vegan student group in an effort to improve the school’s vegan offerings, Minnesota Daily reports.

The group was created by the school’s foodservice vendor, Aramark, and its campus sustainability coordinator, who is vegan, after receiving numerous complaints from students about the lack of vegan options on campus.

The group will this week host its first meeting, during which members will be able to share feedback and provide solutions to help enhance the school’s vegan offerings. Members will also keep a photo journal...

Industry News & Opinion

Panera Bread Co. announced today that it intends to buy the Au Bon Pain brand as a way of opening more bakery-cafes in colleges, healthcare facilities, office buildings, travel centers and malls.

Au Bon Pain, which was Panera’s sole business under an earlier incarnation of the company, consists of 304 bakery-cafes. Several units are located in noncommercial venues.

Panera owns or holds the franchise rights to about 2,050 restaurants, few of which are located outside of strip malls.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Immediately after the deal was...

FSD Resources