Building the School's Greenhouse
& Winter Garden

 July 2010

From plant to palate

Community gathering results in Onekama Schools’ new hoophouse

Manistee News Advocate City Editor
Published: Saturday, July 17, 2010 2:12 AM EDT
The tables at Onekama School were lined with organic vegetables, home-baked bread and homemade salad dressing while the beverage table featured fresh juices.

A small gathering of people, many with a unique perspective on where the food came from, ate and shared stories. They were dressed in work clothes, many with remnants of wood glue stuck to their hands and saw dust in their hair.

The group — which was made up of farmers, bakers, employees of Onekama Consolidated Schools and their family members — was gathered Tuesday to build a hoophouse on the school grounds.

Craig Schaaf, whose organic farm, Golden Rule, sells to commercial restaurant accounts in Traverse City, has been helping the school plan for its new Farm to School Program.
"Before I got into becoming an organic farmer," he said, "I was a Finish carpenter for a lot of years, so when I started to farm it was a natural thing for me to build my own hoophouses and things like that and a lot of other farmers in the area started taking an interest.

Schaaf said he’d helped some of the farmers who were present, like Casey Reeves from Five Springs Farm, build hoophouses already, and the interest has spread.

“So, the school had talked to me at one point about getting a hoophouse, getting a grant for a hoophouse, and I suggested instead of buying a metal one that would be a lot more expensive, why don’t we just put some sweat equity into building a wood one and have a community effort?” Schaaf added.

“So, there’s maybe eight to 10 different hoophouses that are going to come out of this, but we’re all learning and working together today to do the school’s for them, and then we’re going to work together helping put them up as we get the frames built for the other ones. We’re going to work together, whoever can, and help put those up as well.”

Onekama’s director of technology, Bruce Peabody, explained that superintendent Kevin Hughes has teamed up with his counterparts in Frankfort and Benzie Central schools to use U.S. Department of Agriculture grant funding to implement the Farm to School Program, which will bring fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms to the students’ lunch platters.

A group of Onekama students helped to move the hoop house to make room for the next stage of the project. Onekama School's hoop house project was awarded a mini-grant through the Community Foundation.

Laura Heintzelman (Executive Director for the Manistee County Community Foundation) and Beth McCarthy (Chair, Board of Directors, Manistee County Community Foundation) met with Jan Exo, Bruce Peabody, and Craig Schaaf (Golden Rule Farm) to see the progress of the hoop house construction.

As Hughes puts it, the grants will help move the school lunch program from “heat and serve” to “cut and cook.”

“Actually, it’s kind of a leadership grant,” Peabody said, “where the federal government is going to be taking a look at how we do this and the emphasis is to get better food on the table of the kids and fresher food from our local farms.”

Another part of the grant funded the hoophouse — which differs from a greenhouse in that it doesn’t need a heat source — and also sent students to a program at Michigan State University where they learned about growing food. Those students will be charged with teaching classmates what they have learned.

“To be honest,” Hughes said, “the hoophouses are going to have a certain capacity they can put out and it’s nowhere near going to (feed the whole school). But, it’s going to get the kids involved in where this comes from, it could be a way to supplement — it’ll be a way for them to see that process from the plant to the palate. There’s a learning component that I think is real essential.”

There will be a lot more tables set up in the new cafetorium when the school year starts in September, and the conversations will probably differ from those that took place on Tuesday. But, there will be some similarities.

The food will be fresh and locally grown.

And maybe, when the students look around at the new addition built after the passage of a bond issue and they eat food grown at local farms and in their own hoophouse built by a bunch of volunteers, the sense of community that made these things possible will be felt.

“I think we have a generation of people who are finally — it’s being written on their heart,” Schaaf said during the lunch break Tuesday. “You know, you can tell people that we have to do things as a community, but you can’t legislate morality and force people by law to do something.

“But, if it’s written on their heart, then it springs out of that and what you have here today are a lot of people that have been wanting to be a part of a community. I think a lot of people do, they just need an avenue for that to happen, and the neat thing about our organic farms in this area is that there’s a real sense of community among us.

“It’s not a competition,” Schaaf continued. “Casey and I aren’t in competition with one another. Casey and I are friends, we’re together, we’re working together to do things together. And that’s the way it ought to be.”

Related Onekama Garden Links

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