Eureka Springs High School nurtures growing greenhouse program

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Eureka Springs High School has a new feature, and you can’t miss it.

Agriculture teacher Jason McAfee reported last week that construction is complete on the school’s new greenhouse, located behind main building. The greenhouse is the result of a $100,00 grant to the Eureka Springs School District, McAfee said, and the finished product is impressive.

“What we have here is a very highly sophisticated commercial greenhouse that is as good as it gets,” McAfee said. “We can produce anything commercially, whether that be nursery ornamental plants or vegetable and fruit crops.”

McAfee described the irrigation system, saying he can control how much water each plant gets down to the hour and the minute. That means it’s possible to grow strawberries year-round, he said. Students will grow fruits and vegetables, McAfee said, to stock the high school’s salad bar. McAfee said he hopes to eventually send fresh produce to the elementary and middle schools as well, saying students will host a plant sale in April featuring ornamental plants.

“We plan to grow four to five different types of lettuce, like spinach and arugula, to tie into the salad bar starting this year,” McAfee said.

Junior David Birchfield said he’s looking forward to growing food for his fellow students. That’s one of the best parts of the new ag program, Birchfield said.

“Hopefully we can start putting plants in here soon and get food for our cafeteria,” Birchfield said. “I think strawberries are going to be really fun to grow.”

Junior Kayden Eckman agreed.

“I really miss having a salad bar. That was really nice to have on the side to your lunch,” Eckman said.

He was raised on a farm, Eckman said, and is excited about growing fresh produce at school.

“I grew up with everything farm-fresh,” Eckman said. “I was spoiled, and I miss that.”

Senior Jahmey Hamilton said he’s hoping to grow some spicy peppers in the greenhouse for a local hot sauce company, Mundi Sauce.

“They help with other fundraisers at the school,” Hamilton said. “They make their own hot sauce to help the EAST program, so I want to grow some peppers for them.”

The greenhouse project came together pretty quickly, McAfee said, with the school receiving the grant last May.

“We did meet the deadline on getting it built,” McAfee said. “After that, we had additional things inside such as plumbing and electrical work. Now that we’re finished with that, we’re ready to get going as far as plant production. We’ve come a long way.”

He plans to incorporate plant production into all his classes, McAfee said.

“A lot of my classes will focus on plant systems,” he said. “Fruits and vegetables will be the primary things we do here.”

The greenhouse’s hydroponic system can grow up to 450 plants in total, McAfee continued, which sit on a gutter system.

“We can stagger the plantings, so we’ll be harvesting alternate weeks and we’ll keep a schedule going throughout the year,” McAfee said.

Production won’t stop during the summer, McAfee said. He said he’ll be working with students to keep growing produce year-round. All produce grown during the summer, he said, will be sold to local restaurants and grocers. That’s a huge benefit to FFA students, McAfee explained, because it allows them to work on their Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE).

“That’s part of the curriculum,” McAfee said. “They can volunteer to come in and continue the production process.”

Though the FFA program began this school year, McAfee said it’s already taken off. His students are excited about the program, McAfee said, especially since they can sell their produce to fund it. Eckman agreed, saying he’s been working on plans for his SAE. He hopes to construct a large “ESHS” on the hill outside the school, Eckman said.

“FFA is a intracurricular activity,” Eckman said. “I’m doing this for EAST and I’m doing this for my SAE project. It’s a lot of work and I’m loving it.”

The Eureka Springs chapter of FFA is new, Eckman said, but he has high hopes for it.

“We actually think we can do really well at the district competition and have a really good shot at going to state,” Eckman said.

“I’m excited to go to some events and meet other people and see what other schools do and how we can better ours,” Hamilton said.

So far, Birchfield said, the FFA program has held a couple fundraisers in town including a sausage sale and a spaghetti dinner. The program is possible because of the administration’s support, Eckman said.

“It took a lot of people to get here, and it’s crazy how fast it came together,” Eckman said. “I think the community should be proud Eureka is trying to institute more programs such as FFA and working on this greenhouse.”

McAfee thanked superintendent Bryan Pruitt and high school principal David Gilmore for supporting the project.

“They have given us great support,” McAfee said. “Now, we’re looking to help the community and we’re hoping to get community partners.”

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