Green and growing

High School adding Food Science and Agriculture Center


Artist sketches of the exterior (above) and inside the greenhouse (cover) of the planned $1 million Food Science and Agriculture Center at Plymouth High School, set for groundbreaking and construction in 2015. The Plymouth Education Foundation has already raised nearly threequarters of the cost of the 5,100-square foot addition. — Submitted photos Artist sketches of the exterior (above) and inside the greenhouse (cover) of the planned $1 million Food Science and Agriculture Center at Plymouth High School, set for groundbreaking and construction in 2015. The Plymouth Education Foundation has already raised nearly threequarters of the cost of the 5,100-square foot addition. — Submitted photos The Plymouth School District plans to construct a Food Science and Agriculture Center at Plymouth High School, to better provide students and community members with skills needed by key local industries.

“This facility will allow us to prepare our students and our community for employment in important area industries,” said Carrie Dassow, district superintendent. “I am especially excited about the partnership with our area businesses, our community members and the Plymouth Education Foundation. I believe that together we will make a difference in the future of our students and our community.”


Artist sketch from inside the classroom to be included in the facility. — Submitted photo Artist sketch from inside the classroom to be included in the facility. — Submitted photo The Plymouth Education Foundation is leading a capital campaign to support the project and has secured donations in the silent phase of its capital campaign for more than 70 percent of the estimated $1 million needed to build the Food Science and Agriculture Center. The public phase of the capital campaign will be launched in May in an effort to raise the remaining $278,000.

State-of-the-art educational tools and resources

Expected to break ground in the spring of 2015 and open that fall, the facility will be built on green space northeast of the high school. It will include a 5,100-square-foot building, comprised of a 30-by-90- foot greenhouse attached to a 30-by-80-foot classroom.


Plymouth High School junior Anton Pohl (above left) and agriculture educator Walter Taylor check the roots of plants that are part of the school’s aquaponics system. State-of-the-art aquaponics will be part of the new Food Science and Agriculture Center at the school. Fish and plants live together in harmony (below) in the aquaponics system. — Submitted photos Plymouth High School junior Anton Pohl (above left) and agriculture educator Walter Taylor check the roots of plants that are part of the school’s aquaponics system. State-of-the-art aquaponics will be part of the new Food Science and Agriculture Center at the school. Fish and plants live together in harmony (below) in the aquaponics system. — Submitted photos PHS does have a small greenhouse, built in the 1970s, but it is inadequate for the number of students interested in learning about food production. “This is the only way for many of our students - who may be several generations removed from living on farms - to get hands-on experience with growing,” said PHS agriscience educator Walter Taylor.

More than just a bigger greenhouse, the new center will feature a modern learning environment with enhanced tools and resources, including:

· Hydroponics, where plants are grown in water without soil

· Aquaponics, a mutually beneficial growing system with fish and plants

These growing techniques actually have been around for a long time, but interest in them has grown in recent years thanks to increased interest in sustainability, Taylor said.

“Greenhouses with emerging agricultural foodgrowing systems are becoming more profitable in our region and already are profitable in our area,” he said. “Actually living and breathing with these systems will set our kids up for success. They can apply knowledge to actual job skills.”

The center will be used as a research facility, where students will have the opportunity to explore lighting needs and the proper balance between UV and fluorescent light, for example, and to scout for pests and disease. They will be involved with the installation, maintenance and testing of various growing systems, Taylor said.

The building has been designed to be flexible so that it can be adapted to emerging food technologies, he added. PHS students will have the chance to help design and engineer future systems.

PHS junior Anton Pohl was involved in drafting the original plans for the center, working with contractors to explore options and creating a design to fit the components together.

Anton, who has worked at Moraine Gardens for three years and is considering careers in both engineering and agriculture, is excited about the Food Science and Agriculture Center.

“It’s neat to see these programs get greater exposure among students, hopefully leading more to take the classes,” he said.

To benefit much of student body

The center is expected to provide more opportunities for all students - whether they are bound for college, technical school or the workplace, much like the LTC-Plymouth Science & Technology Center that opened at the school in 2011.

District administrators estimate that the project will benefit nearly three-quarters of the PHS student body, as the facility will support curriculum in seven areas: food science, culinary arts, agriculture, science, engineering, health and business.

“The large size of the greenhouse would allow the concept of sustainability to be experienced by all students, not just those in certain classes,” said PHS chemistry teacher Jay Grosshuesch. “Students will see first-hand how food goes from plant to table and how the waste can be re-used in a compost pile as the food waste is collected in the cafeteria.”

The center will provide a learning environment that allows students in a variety of academic areas to discuss, reflect and problem-solve ideas that ad- dress complex challenges facing the food and agriculture industries in the 21st century. Agriculture students will be able to collaborate with food science students to develop new products and healthy recipes from food grown in the center, which in turn can be used by the PHS chef and kitchen to show students how their research and development can be integrated into a large-scale food service operation.

The broad reach of the center is what most excites PHS agriscience educator Tracy Heinbuch. “We will have a learning center that will provide students with additional hands-on opportunities and application of concepts learned in the classroom,” she said. “In addition, we will be able to collaborate with other departments and the lunch program to provide fresh produce for our student body.”

The current greenhouse as well as a garden at PHS already provide some food for school lunches, but that amount is limited by the size of the greenhouse and the fact that garden produce appears after students have left for the summer. Major crops that could be grown in the Food Science and Agriculture Center for school lunches include strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and herbs.

The chance to actually grow and produce and prepare food will allow PHS students to apply what they’re learning, said Grosshuesch, a sentiment echoed by PHS culinary arts teacher Gale Litt.

“Students will be able to apply scientific knowledge to real work,” said Litt, who teaches the Food Science class. “It will give them the chance to use the concepts they are learning to produce products that can be beneficial for everyone.”

To benefit community as well

While the primary reason for the center is the education of PHS students, the facility also will be used for continuing education classes offered through Community Education and Recreation outside of the school day.

“This will allow us to bring more of our community into our schools for agriculture/food/cooking classes, and to foster a sense of feeling connected to our district, whether or not you have children that attend,” said Jessica Mella, district nutrition and wellness coordinator. “Food and eating is something we are all connected to and is truly a way to bring us together.”

The district plans collaboration with many community organizations, including Lakeshore Technical College, Nourish, the Plymouth Food Pantry, St. Vincent DePaul, Generations, 4H and UWExtension.

“This project began as a small discussion involving a few interested people in school and has grown to involve and include the whole district and community,” Mella said. “It really proves how an idea or dream can really grow into a reality.”

The center also will allow for business partnerships with top local employers in food-related industries. These partnerships will lead to a better prepared workforce and give students a better understanding of the diverse career pathways within the field.

The foundation is proud of its role in helping to make the Food Science and Agriculture Center a reality, said Anne Troka, executive director of the foundation.

“It is exciting to have the school district, community and businesses work together and recognize the importance of providing a model of excellence preparing today’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders,” Troka said.

Food Science and Agriculture Center at a glance

• Groundbreaking set for spring 2015; to open in fall 2015

• 5,100-square-foot building to be built northeast of Plymouth High School

• 30-by-90-foot greenhouse attached to a 30-by-80-foot classroom

• Will feature state-of-the-art growing systems, such as hydroponics and aquaponics

• Will provide real-life, hands-on experience to students in seven academic areas (agriculture, food science, culinary arts, science, engineering, health, business)

• Will produce food that will be developed into new products and healthy recipes for school lunches and after-school snack programs

• Will host community education classes

• Will allow for partnerships with area businesses and community organizations

• Estimated cost $1 million, more than 72 percent of which has been raised by the Plymouth Education Foundation


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