This month, we started up a partnership with a local independent school. Northwood School's heated greenhouse space will host our seedlings during the next few cold winter months, while I simultaneously work with faculty and students on the the beginning steps of their new community garden. In the absence of a staff member there who is able to devote time and energy to insuring that everything is sown, watered, and temp-controlled they way it must be in a glasshouse with big temperature swings, I will step in and make sure their garden gets off to a good start.
For now, I visit the school twice weekly for "open hours" in the greenhouse from 8:30am-12:30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Anyone from the school can stop by and help sow some seeds, fill cell trays, chat about growing, or just warm up in a sunny place. These are tasks I could accomplish swiftly on my own, but I am here to help guide others and hopefully ignite their interests, too. I also stop by the school once on the weekend to check on things.
For our partnership, I supply the seeds, cell trays, germination mix, and labor for free. In return, I have some extra indoor space for our farm's own seedlings. I have also been offered the school's abundance of veggie scraps and coffee grounds (and the buckets they come in!) for composting at school and at our farm.
During the first few coldest months, we'll grow salad mix and herbs for the school's kitchen. Extra herb starts will be given away to faculty members for cooking in their homes and apartments in the dorms. When we get further along, we'll start a host of veggies that will eventually be planted out in a new garden space nearby or tended to here in the greenhouse (tomatoes).
There are a few challenges with the arrangement. Our farm is about 30 mins away from the school, so there is travel time and there are miles to and from the school that have to become part of my equation. I track the miles with my quickbooks mobile app as a business expense. The glasshouse has a small heater that insures things don't freeze, but the exhaust fans aren't quite enough to turn over the air at the proper exchange rate when the sun comes out. The space heats up very quickly. I'll install my remote temperature sensor to make sure that I can monitor the temps from where ever I am (again, by mobile app). I have a La Crosse Technology system. It is inexpensive, and the sensor can be set to alert me with a warning when the temps are rising. (You need access to electricity and a wifi router within 200ft of your growing space to use a system like this.) The alert gives me time to either get to the greenhouse myself or "phone a friend" at the school to open some windows for me. As we move further along in the season I'll also install some translucent curtains to lower the daytime temps.
There is a lot of work to be done to keep things running just right, but the space is valuable to us and it would otherwise by unused during much of the winter. Our arrangement has me wondering if there are other opportunities for fellow farmers and schools out there. It seems like a great opportunity for both parties. Wouldn't it be great if we could build a national network of interested schools and farmers? hmmmm.