Elma Erding and Jacob Stephas plant vegetables in the Chatfield High School greenhouse.
SUBMITTED PHOTO Elma Erding and Jacob Stephas plant vegetables in the Chatfield High School greenhouse.
Stacy Fritz and her students are getting their vegetables off the ground.

She, along with her classroom students and FFA members at Chatfield High School (CHS), use their greenhouse to propagate plants to be grown into produce for the local food shelf, a change from the greenhouse’s former uses as a place to grow goods that were then incorporated into the CHS cafeteria’s menus.

“I do have FFA members that have their Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) in the area of vegetable production who help me throughout the year and over the summer, growing plants for the Chatfield Community Food Shelf. This is a program that we are just getting off the ground,” remarked Fritz.

She explained, “We have some tomato and pepper seedlings going, and also have planted peas and green beans. Last summer, we had some tomato plants in our raised beds that we harvested for the food shelf over the summer. We saw a need to try and continue this project year-round. Our community is very generous at giving extra produce over the summer, but most people do not have a greenhouse to be able to produce year-round. This is where we can help by supplementing the current supply.”

The FFA advisor and ag instructor stated, “Plants may not necessarily seem exciting on the surface, but there is a great deal of critical thinking going on when you get to apply the concepts in a living laboratory. We are blessed in Chatfield to have a state of the art greenhouse facility to work in, and we utilize this facility for developing critical thinking, problem-solving skills and community service.”

She elaborated that the greenhouse provides the place for students – be they FFAers or classroom students – to test the boundaries of their mini-farming abilities.

“When you are learning out of a book, you retain only so much, but when you can apply what you are learning in living labs, concepts stay with the student so much longer,” Fritz added. “Plus, they will always remember the times when they got to work outside in a garden bed or plant seeds in the greenhouse on a sunny day. These are experiences they may only get through one of my classes or FFA.”

The greenhouse offers FFAers and students the chance to engage in community service and learn that it sometimes costs them some literal sweat.

“Growing vegetables in a greenhouse is different than growing them outside. The students are learning management techniques for both, as well as helping to develop ways to raise plants in various types of systems for research purposes,” Fritz said. “Taking care of the plants over the summer is not always an enjoyable job – it can be hard work, and the weather sometimes adds to the discomfort. The jobs need to be done, regardless of those factors, so students are learning to overcome adversity and challenges, making them physically and mentally stronger.”

Fritz’s horticulture lessons don’t stop with the FFAers, as her class of young students learning about how to plant in the greenhouse are part of the work efforts going on inside, though not necessarily part of the food shelf gardening.

“My Intro to Agriculture class is learning how environmental factors affect plant growth by planting radish seeds and subjecting the seedlings to various elements of an environment, such as changes in temperature, light, water, nutrients and soil. They are also currently working on learning about soil science and have been conducting labs that test percolation of water in sand, silt and clay. Later on this week, we will be reviewing soil horizons with an edible soil lab similar to the labs we conducted to review plant cell parts and functions.”

She continued, “Plant science lends itself easily to hands-on labs and inquiry-based instruction, the level of learning that helps students develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. While most of my students will not go into a career related to horticulture, the concepts learned in class will help them be successful adults, no matter what their chosen career will be.”

Fritz concluded, “There really is no such thing as a green thumb. People will tell me that I must have one because we grow all these beautiful plants, but what it comes down to is learning about what it takes to grow that plant, and to get there sometimes can mean a lot of trial and error.”