Educational opportunities growing in new greenhouse at Lodi H.S.

Jan Shepel
A group gathered to celebrate the dedication of Lodi High School’s new greenhouse last week. From left, H. Adam Steinberg Lodi School Board President, Lodi High School Agriculture instructor Connor Anderson, Ann Groves Lloyd, City of Lodi Mayor and Lodi High School Principal Joe Jelinek helped cut the ribbon in front of the state-of-the-art greenhouse at the school on December 7. The celebration was delayed by about a year due to the pandemic.

LODI – Christmas lights twinkled alongside grow lights as Lodi High School and its FFA Alumni Association dedicated a new state-of-the-art greenhouse. The ribbon-cutting last week for the new facility was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and its related shutdowns and school closures, but that made the celebration by the project’s supporters all the more sweeter.

The greenhouse was new in 2019 and the school was going to have a celebration and open house in 2020, but it was put on hold due to the pandemic.

“Now we’re back to putting on the event and it’s nice because more things have been finalized,” says Connor Anderson, Lodi High School’s agriculture teacher. “We have some lights that have been donated and the aquaponic system is up and running and I’m able to show how it all works.”

The school needed a new facility to keep up with teaching students about horticulture and the school’s old greenhouse just wasn’t up to the task. It is much smaller and was designed as a lean-to off the school’s agriculture classroom. It was built with glass and gained a lot of heat during sunny days, making it difficult to use it for plants.

The new greenhouse, built with polycarbonate panels, is double the size of the old greenhouse space and has automated systems to help keep the temperatures in the proper range for plants to grow efficiently. 

“It’s a much better growing space,” Anderson told us. “The kids can do their plant sale and those plants won’t be cooked to death.”

Each year, in time for Mother’s Day, the greenhouse management class offers plants for sale and that project gives students the chance to see what it’s like to start plants, pot them up and sell them commercially, Anderson said. The students design and pot up hanging baskets for sale.

During an open house to celebrate the dedication of a new greenhouse in the agriculture department at Lodi High School, visitors looked over a bench full of aloe plants as well as hearing about automated operation systems and admiring aquaponics systems.

“They have full design control in creating the hanging baskets. Students monitor all the plants for root development,” he added.

The new 30-by-40 foot greenhouse sits adjacent to, but not connected to the school building, so it will be possible for students to have keyless access to the unit to take care of plants on weekends or when school is not in session, he explained. That wasn’t possible with the old greenhouse because it was attached to the classroom.

When the plans were begun for this new greenhouse, Anderson said he went to a former commercial greenhouse operator who had advised the nearby Waunakee school district on how to build a new greenhouse and got his suggestions on everything from heating systems to floors to tables.

“He told us how to get everything and what would work the best for us.”

Anderson is currently using the greenhouse for three plant science classes – horticulture, landscaping and greenhouse management. Students will use the greenhouse for growing those spring bedding plants that are then sold to the public. Several hundred students have already been able to use the greenhouse in their course work, he added.

The aquaponic setup – which pairs the growing of plants with the growing of fish (tilapia) – has been a lot fun for students to learn about, he said.

Lodi agriculture instructor Connor Anderson (wearing the Holstein-patterned mask) talked with visitors about lettuce plants that are being grown in the new Lodi High School greenhouse. The tiny lettuce plants will soon be placed in an aquaponic system where fertilizer from fish will help grow the plants. Visitors were on hand to celebrate the dedication of the school’s new greenhouse.

Early on in the project, the Lodi FFA Alumni chapter formed a committee to work with the school board and get funding secured for the high-priority greenhouse. The group donated $10,000 to cover the cost of things that were needed inside the greenhouse.

Support for the greenhouse from the community through grants and donations was strong. Grants for the greenhouse included the following: Nutruen Ag Solutions $5,000; Donors Choose $254; Wisconsin Energy Education Fund $5,000; Lodi Area Community Endowment Fund $2,000; Lodi Utilities $1,000; Lodi FFA Alumni $10,000; Wisconsin Energy Education Program KEEP $250; Lodi Parent Teacher Organization $792.41.

In addition, Entertainment Theater Controls (ETC) in Middleton, donated lights that can be programmed with various color spectrums for perfect plant development. The Lodi Utility company helped pay for a grant that helped with the hot water heat that keeps the greenhouse at a steady temperature. An additional hot-air heater adds heat when necessary.

Shade cloths inside the greenhouse help moderate temperatures as well.

Annie Klahn, secretary of the Lodi FFA Alumni, said that agriculture is extremely important to Wisconsin and to Columbia County and that was evident in the support for this greenhouse project.

“This shows wonderful support for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and offers a chance for high school students to get their hands dirty.

“We are excited about the potential that this greenhouse represents and are excited to see what Connor continues to do here,” she said.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Lodi Principal Joe Jelinek, adding that Lodi High School received a pollinator habitat grant that “would not have happened without the greenhouse.”

The greenhouse will offer students a number of opportunities and “hundreds of students will use it and have a glimmer of an idea of what they want to do in life,” Jelinek added.

During a tour of the new greenhouse, Anderson showed visitors the aquaponic setup and lettuce that is grown in a floating bed near the fish tank. Nutrients from the fish are used to fertilize the plants in the so-called “raft bed.”

“We hope to supply lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes to the lunch line so the kids can grow their own food,” Anderson said.

The greenhouse has automated systems that monitor temperatures inside the greenhouse and can adjust a ridge vent, side vents, and exhaust fans. This is a world away from the old greenhouse, which is now being used for small animal classes. During the ribbon cutting ceremony and tour, a domestic rabbit was in the old greenhouse space munching on lettuce grown in the new greenhouse.

“The old greenhouse was never that good for raising plants,” said Michelle Howe, a sixth-grade science and middle school agriculture teacher. “This new greenhouse will be a great space for teaching students about plant science. It is already offering so many support and learning opportunities and exposes the kids to so much more. It is such a great opportunity for learning.”

School board members attending the open house told us that the price tag for the greenhouse building was around $70,000 but for all that is in place now, the cost was closer to $120,000.