Learning to grow

Onekama board tours hoop house

Posted by Jodie Fletcher, Manistee News Advocate

ONEKAMA — The melons dotting the landscape and peppers and tomatoes safely ensconced inside the Onekama Schools hoop house is fulfilling its purpose.

Built last year with a grant from the Manistee County Community Foundation, the hoop house fits nicely with Onekama Consolidated Schools’ transformation of its food service program from heat and serve to cut and cook.

Last spring, the students were able to dine on lettuce, swiss chard and spinach that grew right there on school property.

Onekama head cook Jan Exo (left) shows the tomato plants growing in the school hoop house to Onekama Consolidated Schools board president Sally Koon (middle) and board member Lynn Mathieu. (all photos on this page by Jodie Fletcher/News Advocate)

“For a month and a half, we took lettuces and things out of there,” Onekama head cook Jan Exo said. “(What’s growing now) hasn’t gone because we’re not in school yet, but we’re hoping that … we can get some of the peppers off and see if we can freeze those for fall use.

“All the lettuces and swiss chard and spinach, we used quite a bit of that (last spring in the school kitchen). If you look on our website, there were pictures of our salad bar that had that on.”

The Onekama Consolidated Schools Board of Education toured the hoop house, and many had the opportunity to take home some of the heirloom tomatoes grown in there.

Exo explained that they hope to have some for the students when they come back to school in a month.

“We started the tomatoes later so they’re ripening now and going into September,” she said. “And the same thing for the pepper plants. (We) start them later and put them out here in July, so by the end of August they would be (ripe), instead of now when we can’t do anything with them.”

At that time, the plan is also to have the students and teachers take a more active role in the care of the plants in the hoop house.

“Jan and I talked to everybody,” Hughes said, “and we’ve got a couple of teachers interested and we’re trying to get more buy in from the kids — not that there wasn’t buy in, but just more take responsibility because Jan and Bruce and three or four staff members, with kids, spent a lot of time.

“But it’s time for some other teachers and some other people to take it over a little bit.”

Hughes said the year of learning things like rotating crops, planting and maintenance has been fun.

“The good thing is — you hear of greenhouses costing districts thousands of dollars — because this is all solar, we don’t have anything into it,” he said. “We literally have nothing into it because the foundation bought it and these guys volunteer their time and this is just one of those nice projects that didn’t cost us an arm and a leg to do.”


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