RENVILLE, Minn. – When Mrs. Jill Grams, the ag teacher at Buffalo Lake/Hector/Stewart (BLHS) High School, was considering a greenhouse, she asked for help from Mr. Jason Stewig, the ag teacher at Renville County West (RCW).
Located 30 miles west of BLHS, RCW has operated a greenhouse for the past 12 years or so. It started back in 2007, when RCW science teacher Brenda Holm asked Darrel Refsland, Stewig’s predecessor, if the FFA chapter would be interested in her family’s greenhouse. After working with the Holms family for a year, the greenhouse was moved near the school’s athletic field and set up for use.
The first years were challenging with the greenhouse needing a lot of propane heat to grow plants from seedling plugs. The plastic roof only kept the plants about 10 degrees warmer at night than the temperature outside.
So in the 11 years that Stewig has been at RCW, the greenhouse has evolved to focus on selling nursery or bedding plants, as well as designing and planting customers’ decorative planters.
“We do a pretty good business every year,” Stewig said. “The youth have saved up a little bit of money, so when we open it, we don’t have to borrow money to get plants and things that we need.”
Students are in charge of ordering plants from a large commercial greenhouse located near Monticello, Minn. The plants arrive about two weeks before the annual plant sale is held. Just a small amount of propane is needed to keep the plants healthy in May.
“They still need a little more growing before they are ready to sell,” he said. “The youth learn how to manage the greenhouse plants, watering – because you have to be careful or you could drown them – and looking for disease.”
In addition, the students learn to deadhead the flowers and remove any poor-doing plants. They determine how to display the plants and what to charge. They work with customers and accounting.
Enough money has been raised to pay for students to attend the Minnesota and National FFA Conventions, as well as leadership camps.
The dollars are also used toward running two community gardens that take up about half an acre of land.
Half of the plot is planted to sweet corn, and farmers help provide seed and plant the crop. The other half of the plot is planted to vegetables including tomatoes, green peppers and jalapeno peppers. Any plants left from the plant sale are also donated to and planted in the community gardens.
“It’s all free to community members,” he said. “We’ll grow it, we’ll weed it, and they’ll pick it.”
RCW was able to buy a six-row corn planter, and the school has a tractor that can be used if needed. The greenhouse profits paid for a walk-behind tiller and other garden tools.
In 2020, COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible for RCW to run their greenhouse or plant sales, but five students helped with the community gardens. Stewig has learned that the RCW administration will also allow school credits for those working with the gardens in 2021.
“The plan this year is they will let us open the greenhouse so the students can get their hours in the greenhouse and hours in the garden – planting the garden, weeding the garden, and all of that,” Stewig said. “We can’t pay the students, but they get their national convention trips.”