Medora adding Grow Lab, greenhouse at school



The Medora Community Schools agriculture department is ready to take the next step to grow its program.

In just the second year of the department’s existence at the school, ag teacher and FFA adviser Ashley Shoemaker said her students have put in the work to add a Grow Lab and a greenhouse across the street from the school.

The mission is to enrich the agriculture curriculum, support project-based and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning and promote good nutrition and environmental stewardship.

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"This is definitely their baby. They have taken ownership of this project. They are excited," Shoemaker told the board of trustees during a recent meeting.

Superintendent Roger Bane said the greenhouse will cost around $10,000. After talking to a couple of major corporations, he said he has a feeling almost all of it will be funded.

The fencing will cost around $3,500, grow boxes will be nearly $1,500 and stone is $350, and he is working on getting quotes for labor and installing electricity. The town council also may allow the school to install water access at no cost.

Bane said once all of the numbers are finalized, the students can present to the major funders.

The school also is pursuing a grant from the Owen-Carr Township Community Fund to be able to buy items for the interior of the greenhouse, and Shoemaker said the ag program has applied for donations from Walmart for garden hoses and other things needed to get the garden growing this summer.

"We do have money in there to help with this project that we put in the budget for this year," Bane said. "It’s not enough to do the whole project. That’s why they are looking for outside sources besides the ones that I’m working with."

The project is being led by the 10 students in Shoemaker’s horticulture class.

"This is truly a project-based learning lesson that we have done in my classroom, so they have decided how they want to go about it, what they want it to be, who they want to work with and things like that, so they have seen this project through," she said.

The students met with Bane, Principal Austin Skutnik and Becky Starr from the school cafeteria.

Sophomore Kenley King, president of the Medora FFA chapter, said the idea is to have students grow vegetables in the garden and donate them to Starr and her staff to cook and serve at lunch.

Senior Keyla Newby said the garden will include strawberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, potatoes and squash.

"All of the food grown in our garden will be donated to the cafeteria to be used so the children can see how once it’s grown, we will feed it to them to allow them to try new things," she said. "This garden is not going to supply all of the food. We just want to do a variety to show the most common foods served and how they are grown and raised."

The garden also will have lavender, milkweed and sunflowers.

"We’re doing those mainly for the benefit of the elementary but also for the environment because the monarch butterflies are decreasing, and we want to help raise those numbers again," Newby said. "And by doing the sunflowers, it’s a win-win situation because we can harvest the seeds at the time when they are harvested."

Freshman Tori Murphin said the garden will symbolize growth in the community and can teach students how to grow their own foods.

"There needs to be a change in our culture in this town," she said. "I don’t know if you notice, but there are a lot of kids that aren’t getting three meals a day. By them helping with this, they could easily go and eat."

Shoemaker said they want to be a cornerstone for the community.

"We want to show that Medora is here and we’re doing great things and our kids are excited about being at school and what we have going on," she said.

The Grow Lab will be used by horticulture science, plant and soil science, landscape management and introduction to agriculture classes to meet state standards, and it fits into the school’s STEM initiative and offers project-based learning.

The high school students also are eager to share their knowledge with elementary kids.

"They want to teach them about the fruits and vegetables that we’re eating in the cafeteria and make a connection to ‘This is what a carrot looks like when we pull it out of the ground’ and ‘This is how Mrs. Becky fixes them and how they come through our cafeteria,’" Shoemaker said.

It’s proven that kids will eat it if they see it grown, she said, so it’s about involving them in that process and helping them make healthy choices.

"We also want it to be a collaboration between me and those elementary teachers," Shoemaker said. "I’ve talked with the kindergarten teacher about doing monarch butterflies, so growing milkweed, then she can have those monarchs in her kindergarten classroom to talk about those science standards for her kindergartners."

Students who work in the Grow Lab also will gain employability skills so they will be ready for job interviews, and they can include the experience on award applications within FFA.

During the summer, the Grow Lab will be maintained by students in the supervised agricultural experience class and Reach for a Star after-school program.

"There are plenty of people around here in the summer that are willing and want to take care of it, manage it and get that going," Shoemaker said.

In the future, King said the plan is to make bouquets and corsages and sell plants to the community and use the proceeds for FFA students to attend conventions and do other activities.

Shoemaker said other local schools find success in plant sales in the spring.

"Their horticulture or plant soil kids grow that crop, and then those FFA kids will sell it, and then that extra money will go back into that FFA chapter, and the FFA then pays for those inputs that next year," she said. "It’s a way to sustain it and also use it as a fundraiser."

The plan is to put the Grow Lab and greenhouse next to the school’s red barn at the corner of George and Riley streets.

The greenhouse will have heating, electricity, a sidewalk to the entrance, handicap-accessible walkways, gravel underneath the growing benches and a water spigot.

Murphin said they also would like a fertilizer injection system to ensure proper growth of the plants. A garden hose, growing benches, growing material, garden mix soil, garden tools and a watering can will be needed, too. Donations of those items are being accepted.

Shoemaker said she hopes to have the Grow Lab finished before the end of the school year and the greenhouse built before the new school year starts in August.

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Anyone interested in making a donation toward Medora Community Schools’ new Grow Lab and greenhouse project may contact Superintendent Roger Bane at 812-966-2210.


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