Center to offer hands-on learning opportunities for students as well as the community

Plymouth School District Chef Caren Johnson cuts herbs for use in school lunches from the aquaponics system at Plymouth High School. The new Food Science and Agriculture Center at PHS would allow for more such collaboration and reallife applications. — Submitted photo Plymouth School District Chef Caren Johnson cuts herbs for use in school lunches from the aquaponics system at Plymouth High School. The new Food Science and Agriculture Center at PHS would allow for more such collaboration and reallife applications. — Submitted photo The Food Science and Agriculture Center being planned for Plymouth High School is expected to provide more opportunities for all students - whether they are bound for college, technical school or the workplace.

Students will be involved with the installation, maintenance and testing of various growing systems, said PHS agriscience educator Walter Taylor.

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.

As a research facility, it will give students the opportunity to explore lighting needs and the proper balance between UV and fluorescent light, for example, and to scout for pests and disease.

The center will feature a modern learning environment with enhanced tools and resources, including:

• Greenhouse, where plants can be grown year round.

• Hydroponics, where plants are grown in water without soil

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

“Actu- ally living and breathing with these systems will set our kids up for success,” Taylor said. “They can apply knowledge to actual job skills.”

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.

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

The chance to actually grow and produce and prepare food will allow PHS students to apply what they’re learning, said 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.”

The center also will provide additional opportunities for students to develop soft skills such as collaboration, respect, initiative and work habits, said PHS Principal Dr. Jennifer Rauscher. “These skills will serve them and our community well far beyond high school,” she said.

The center will support a number of existing classes, including Agriculture Commodity Processing, Foundations in Agribusiness; the entire Culinary Arts series, Food Science; Biology, Accelerated Biology and Advanced Biology; Botany and Greenhouse/Floriculture and Manufacturing. Partnerships, such as this, will allow PHS to offer more opportunities to students by preparing them for continuing education in food sciences and providing them with the education they need to work in our local food industries, said Dr. Carrie Dassow, Superintendent of Plymouth School District.

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.

The center could be the site of an unlimited variety of community education opportunities, among them canning and preserving food, farm-totable dinners, cheese making, fermentation, fruit trees, take-and-bake meals, food safety, and cooking classes of all types, said Jessica Mella, district nutrition and wellness coordinator.

In addition, the greenhouse would lend itself to community classes about planning a garden, gardening, landscaping, pollination, hydroponics, aquaponics, healthy garden bugs, garden art, sustainability, recycling and composting, Mella said.

Community volunteers also can help care for plants, learning as they do so, she added. Eventually, as the land around the center is developed into a parklike setting, people could “rent” plots for gardens. As the district expands its composing program, rich soil could be available to the community.

The district also plans collaborations with many community organizations, including Nourish, the Plymouth Food Pantry, St. Vincent DePaul, Generations, 4H and UW-Extension.

An existing partnership with Nourish could be expanded by producing food for the Plymouth Snack Attack program, and eventually by making a com- munity kitchen available for local chefs and the PHS culinary arts program to prepare Snack Attack after-school snacks, Mella said.

Senior citizens could partner with students to grow food for use at Generations, she added. Food also could be grown for those in need, through the Plymouth Food Pantry.

“Food and eating is something we are all connected to and is truly a way to bring us together,” Mella said.

Look for a donor form in The Review’s Xtras during the month of July, outlining how you can make a donation to support the Plymouth Education Foundation’s Capital Campaign to build the Food Science and Agriculture Center at Plymouth High School. Or, visit to learn more about the project including how to make a donation. If you make a donation before August 29, you can double your impact during the Community Match Challenge that has been issued by an anonymous Plymouth High School alumnus, who is matching donations dollar for dollar up to $10,000.

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