About four days after flood waters inundated North Bend, D.J. Mottl was able to get into town.

He headed to the new greenhouse at North Bend Central High School to water the plants. Continued efforts were made to save them, but not all would survive.

“Half of our spring crop didn’t make it, because of lack of water in those four days,” said Mottl, the ag ed instructor.

But an endeavor aimed at teaching students about a variety of topics — including plant growth — would provide yet another lesson.

This time in perseverance.

On Sept. 6, the public is invited to an open house at the greenhouse. The event will start at 6 p.m. and continue through halftime of the high school football game versus Logan View.

Those who attend the open house can see the greenhouse, which already has yielded a variety of produce, plants and learning experiences.

NBC School Board member Francis Emanuel planted the seed for the greenhouse, pursuing an initial $25,000 grant from the Monsanto America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education grant (now called the Bayer fund).

“He thought that would be a good fit for our school — to have a greenhouse,” said Nicole Rasmussen, greenhouse instructor and technology assistant.

The greenhouse can provide hands-on learning for students, who can experiment and see how plants grow.

Students can produce vegetables for kids to eat in the school cafeteria through hydroponics (plants in water without soil) and aquaponics in which fish fertilize the water for the plants.

“We did not get the grant the first year,” Rasmussen said.

But they got the grant in August 2017.

Between grants and donations, the school would receive $90,870. That included a $10,000 grant from Fremont Area Community Foundation.

The greenhouse, including complete construction, materials, equipment, furniture, classroom materials and training, which included two conferences, cost $200,000. The district paid for the remainder of the cost.

“We could have cut costs, however, we incorporated a lot of state-of-the-art technology, equipment and efficiencies that give kids experience in cutting-edge technology,” Mottl said.

For instance, heat and air system can be controlled remotely via phone. Such things can help students get comfortable in a technological environment, Rasmussen said.

And the experience of managing a facility remotely may help spur a career path for some students, Mottl added.

Work began in January 2018 on the 30-by-72-foot structure, situated in the high school’s northwest corner, near the ag wing.

The soil had to be built up for the structure, which wasn’t flooded.

Work on the structure was finished last January.

In February, the process was still in the planning stages, but students were able to select types of vegetables they wanted to grow.

Among their selections were green beans, lettuce, broccoli and cucumbers. Students were pleased to see that some of the vegetables they grew from seeds were served during the school’s lunchtime.

Other items, such as annual flowers and garden plants in baskets and tomato plants, were sold to the community.

Production will be expanded. Mottl said more than 50 varieties of will be grown in the greenhouse, depending on what students want to produce.

Giving them that latitude offers them a sense of ownership and pride in their work.

“We want them to eat it in the cafeteria, so we want them to grow something they’ll enjoy,” Rasmussen added.

Plans also are to grow 20 different varieties of annual flowers, along with perennials.

“Poinsettias come in two days,” Rasmussen said.

Blue tilapia will be the fish in the aquaponics area.

The educators speak enthusiastically about what students can learn through the greenhouse.

“We’re a farm community,” Rasmussen said. “They can learn a ton in a greenhouse.”

Lesson can include pest management, safety, plant identification and care.

The whole point of agriculture is to raise products to feed people.

“And we want to show them that it’s not as easy as it looks – to give them that knowledge and hands-on experience, doing the things that D.J (Mottl) teaches in class. Now, they can apply it to a real-life scenario,” Rasmussen said.

Mottl would concur.

“A lot of the push in education is _ it’s not just pens and pencils and paper and books. You need something to reinforce those concepts, the ideas, the objectives we’re teaching,” he said.

This can be expanded to trial-based education and research where students can see how a certain ratio of fertilizer might – or might not – improve a plant’s production.

Students can learn about marketing, design, advertising and business principles when it comes to selling the produce. Other school departments can contribute. For instance, art teacher Dan Wright plans to have his students make pots for the greenhouse sales.

And students can learn other things.

“It creates responsibility. I think you create some pride,” Mottl said.

Last year, eighth-graders planted green beans from seed. During the school lunch, they later were excited to be eating the beans they’d raised.

Students would learn some other lessons as well.

After the flooding, Mottl, Rasmussen and a student aide were able to keep about half of the plants alive during the two weeks that students weren’t in school.

“Then we came back to school and we spent almost every day planting seeds,” he said. “Every waking moment that first week back, I think everybody was out there planting seed. Every ag class was in there planting.”

Therein came the lesson in perseverance.

“It would have been easy for us to just close the door and walk away until August, but we weren’t going to do that,” Mottl said. “That’s not why we built the building. That’s not our job to walk away.”

Setbacks occur in agriculture.

“There’s setbacks regularly, whether you’re raising livestock or growing field crops, you have those,” he said.

And perseverance is vital.

“You don’t give up,” Mottl said. “It doesn’t matter what you do in life, you’re going to have setbacks. You have to push through. Keep your eye on the goal and try to make the best of the situation.”

Such determination can help students long after they’ve graduated from high school.

“You’re going to have those same experiences later in life, regardless of whether you’re involved in agriculture or some other career area,” Mottl said.

Rasmussen agreed, adding:

“It’s how you handle that, that defines you.

She also noted that students were relieved to learn that not all the plants had died due to lack of water, adding:

“They were connected to the plants.”


News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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