Students at Monett R-1 School District in Monett, Mo., will soon get to snack on fresh produce grown right in the district’s backyard.
A new greenhouse was installed earlier this month and purchased with help from a U.S. Department of Agriculture farm-to-school grant worth just over $15,000.
“It was kind of a shared grant,” says Food Service Director Ralph Meredith. “So the grant provided [approximately] 75%, and we provided [approximately] 25%.”
While the greenhouse did require a financial investment, the foodservice team believes it will be instrumental to reducing costs in the long run and will also provide more local options for students.
Tomatoes, cucumbers and more
Monett’s greenhouse is located behind an operations building that will become a warehouse for the nutrition team next school year, and a current staff member will oversee both facilities.
“She's going to work the greenhouse and then at our warehouse, she will help distribute pallets of food, dry goods and things like that from the warehouse to each campus,” says Meredith.
The greenhouse is equipped with thermostats, fans, electrical outlets and a sprinkler system. Work is also about to begin on raised garden beds that will house a variety of produce.
Initially, the team will focus on growing cucumbers, bell peppers, different types of tomatoes and jalapenos.
“We use a lot of those items,” says Meredith. “And those grow massively.”
They’ll also try their hand at planting seasonal produce such as carrots, squash, pumpkins, cantaloupe and watermelon.
While harvesting the produce will be done primarily by the employee in charge of the greenhouse, Meredith partnered with a vocational school in the district to have its students help during harvest time as a way to learn more about where their food comes from. He also plans to have graphic design students at the school create signage and other marketing materials to display in the cafeteria when the produce is being served.
After it leaves the greenhouse, the produce will most likely find its way into salads or as toppings for menu items. At the high school level, for example, the team plans to let students customize burgers, nachos and other entrees with greenhouse-grown tomatoes, jalapenos and more.
Cutting costs in the long run
The team will still outsource some of its fruits and vegetables to local suppliers since the greenhouse won’t be able to supply enough produce to meet the needs of the nutrition program, which serves approximately 1,800 meals a day.
Instead, Meredith hopes the greenhouse will help the program reduce the amount it spends on fresh produce.
If the greenhouse proves successful, he also plans to add another greenhouse in one to two years so the team can expand its growing capabilities, continue to reduce its reliance on suppliers and further minimize costs.
While the greenhouse was only installed a couple weeks ago, it has already been met positively by students and staff, and Meredith hopes it will get them excited for what’s to come.
“I think that [the greenhouse] just builds that anticipation of what we can do,” he says. “If this is what we're doing now, what can we do going forward?”