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Community comes together to build greenhouse for students
Holland Middle School project to teach students STEM skills while feeding local families
HOLLAND, Mich., April 25, 2019 – Holland Middle School is partnering with several local organizations to build a hoop greenhouse with an underground low-cost, energy-efficient heating system on the Holland Middle School campus.
The greenhouse will be used as a tool to educate students about botany and nutrition while providing locally grown produce for students and families in need.
After laying the groundwork during spring break, students, teachers and volunteers from Herman Miller’s Sustainability Resource Team will gather on Thursday, April 25, to erect the greenhouse. Construction will begin at 9 a.m. on the front lawn of Holland Middle at 373 E. 24th St., and is expected to be completed by around 2 p.m.
The greenhouse project is the vision of Bill Boerman, who teaches STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum at Holland Middle.
Some students at the school are already well on their way to developing great gardening and nutrition skills.
“Over the past year, we have added hydroponic grow towers in the building to grow greens that students can snack on, and students have learned the science of infusing water with plants to create vitamin water to stay hydrated. The hoop house will serve as an educational tool for the entire school,” Boerman said.
Funding for this innovative educational tool is coming from Ottawa Department of Public Health through Ottawa Foods and Herman Miller Cares.
“Our main priority is reducing hunger, encouraging healthy eating and increasing sourcing from local foods. This project really does it, and that’s why we are thrilled to be a part of it,” said Lisa Uganski, health educator for Ottawa County Department of Public Health and coordinator of Ottawa Foods, a group made up of 40 organizations.
Herman Miller and its foundation, Herman Miller Cares, have stepped forward to support the greenhouse project with both a small grant and volunteers from the company’s Sustainability Resource Team, who will help out on build day.
For years, the iconic furniture maker has had gardens at its Zeeland headquarters, so Herman Miller employees are eager to bring this experience to a local school, said Diane Bunse, Herman Miller’s Corporate Safety and Sustainability Specialist.
“It was a project that the sustainability team could get their arms around and support. It also aligns with our corporate commitment for caring for the environment and helping kids,” Bunse said.
Expertise has come from Grand Valley State University and the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District. Youssef Darwich, who oversees GVSU’s sustainability program along with Ottawa Area Intermediate School District instructor Tony McCaul and para-professional Paul Zelenka, who teach agricultural science, provided guidance on the project.
The school's greenhouses uses a climate battery system, which functions similar to the city of Holland's snowmelt system but uses air circulated underground, rather than heated water, to regulate both the hot and cold extremes all year round.
“I really can’t say enough about Bill and his ability to pull together all these resources to create this educational tool,” said Darwich. “Students learn about agriculture and growing, but through that process, the greenhouse becomes a tool for teaching many subjects, like math and even literature.”
“Ottawa County is a regional cradle for bedding and nursery plants, so it’s natural an innovative greenhouse project would find support in the region,” said Boerman. “This project is being nurtured by some of the names that put Ottawa County on the map as a growing hotspot.”
Zelenka, whose family’s former Holland-area nursery was one of the biggest in the U.S., donated hoops and hardware for the greenhouse from his business, P&B Farms. Zelenka says he has been impressed watching how Boerman has brought his eighth-grade Advanced STEM students into the entire greenhouse planning process.
“He is teaching students how to plan a budget and build a project. He’s helping students see the big picture of how it happens,” Zelenka said.
For Dirk Jonker, a third-generation owner of Jonker’s Gardens, the project has been an opportunity to share his passion for growing with his alma mater. Jonker, who graduated from Holland High in 2000, not only donated water cans, fertilizer and landscape fabric to the effort, but visited Boerman’s class to explain how greenhouses work.
“I think it's cool that he’s showing kids how food comes from plants,” said Jonker. “Anytime a teacher comes to us for help teaching about botany, we are excited to help.”
Support runs deep for the project, with more than a dozen businesses and organizations giving money, services or supplies. Other partners include 28 Specialties, who provided excavation services to prep the site during spring break, Zeeland Lumber and Fence Consultants, who contributed supplies, and the city of Holland, who donated compost.