When Sue Kulbeik received that phone call, last Monday, that the International Lions was granting $100,000 to the West Central Area Environmental Center Greenhouse Project, it was the culmination of over two years of fundraising. The $330,000 project is underway with a site being finalized, underground utilities marked, and the foundation being laid this fall. The 30’x 60’ greenhouse, to be located just west of West Central Area Secondary School, hopes to hold their grand opening around Mother’s Day 2022, perhaps with a special sale of flowers grown on site.
WCA FFA advisor Eric Sawatzke, Deb Lacey, Wendell Lions, and Kulbeik, Elbow Lake Lions, have been the project co-coordinators. When the greenhouse gets up and running, it will produce fresh produce and vegetables for the Grant County and Hoffman Food Shelves, and senior nutrition programs.They will also have produce (and flowers when in season), at local farmers markets. The produce will also appear in Grant County schools’ lunch rooms, as well as in their backpack programs.
“This project has the potential to touch every person in Grant County in some way,” said Kulbeik.
The greenhouse will be run by WCA students, who will also utilize math and business classes to manage the books, science to find the best fertilizers, art and graphic design to handle advertising and marketing, as well as study the nutritional benefits of fresh foods in Family and Consumer Science classes. Ag classes will have a hands-on way to experiment with plant genetics.
“The whole school will be involved,” said Kulbeik.
As is every Lions Club in Grant County.
Lacey is especially happy to get the Food Shelves involved. She is the director of the Grant County and Hoffman/Kensington Food Shelves.
“Fresh produce is especially hard to get for food shelves,” she said. “When the greenhouse is in operation, a volunteer can load up fresh lettuce, carrots, etc, twice a week.”
Lacey added that the project will be life changing for many
“COVID-19 shows us that it is best to grow food locally, and students have to know how to do it.”
The actual greenhouse itself will be constructed of specially designed acrylic panels, instead of the flimsy plastic film many are made of. The frame will be aluminum, and watering will be done with drip lines that hang overhead. There will be automatic shade panels on the roof that close in the evenings to keep in the heat. There will be two main grow rooms, partitioned off so they can have their own temperate zones, as well as a head house, for storage and plant transplanting. The building will be insulated from the ground to about four feet with a “knee high wall.”
The structure should be going up next winter with construction by A. J. Lauer, a company that specializes in fabricating greenhouses.
Late next winter, seedlings will be started elsewhere, ready to be transplanted when the greenhouse is ready. Many seedlings can get started in WCA’s own Grow Shed, installed last year on school grounds.
“I am really hoping this can become a model for other schools,” said Kulbeik, adding that she would love to see every school raise their own food, as well as food for their communities.
The West Central Environmental Center Greenhouse project is not part of any anticipated levy referendum, and will not receive referendum funds. In fact, the co-coordinators plan to have the project completely paid for before it goes into operation.
Already, over 35 organizations, businesses, or individuals have contributed matching funds for the project including: Champion Ag; Grant County SWCD; Noel Kjesbo Memorial; Chuck and Jeane Meidl; Anderson Bash; Alexandria Elks; AgCounty; CoBank; Elbow Lake Lions; Wendell Lions; Hoffman Lions; Grant/Ottertail Corn and Soybean Growers; West Central Initiative; CHS; Bayer/Monsanto; Grant County Farm Bureau; Red River Marketing; Elbow Lake Firemen; Otto Bremer; Wooden Link Vineyard; Kensington Bank; Midwest Machinery; Randy and Connie Reuss; Riverview Foundation; Douglas County Corn and Soybean Growers; FFA Breakfast Fundraiser; Barrett Farm Supply; Brutlag Farms; Titan Machinery; Sheldon and Noelle Korth; Porters; Kent and Gail Hedstrom; AgProfessionals, Lions International, and MN Ag Ed Leadership Council.
“There is always a need for more donations for this great project,” said Sawatzke. Simply contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-597-8413.