Wood County schools and pantries go green
For the City Times
WOOD COUNTY – Area food pantries are making advancements toward local food procurement and accessibility, with the installation of the “Green Machines” in five Wood County school districts and two food pantries in Wood County.
The Green Machine is a hydroponic growing system – plants grow in water – that does not require dirt. The Green Machine grows an average of 400 pounds of produce throughout a year cycle. It stands at 4x4x3.5ft and requires as little as an hours’ worth of maintenance over the course of a week.
The Green Machine is capable of growing many types of produce, including lettuce and other leafy greens, green onions, peppers, and strawberries.
In 2018, a Green Machine, funded by Incourage Community Foundation, was piloted and installed in the classroom of Jeremy Radtke, agriculture (ag) educator at Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids.
Since 2018, Radtke’s students have successfully grown lettuce, spinach, and basil, and are currently testing parsley and green beans at the request of the Wisconsin Rapids school food service.
Produce from the ag classroom is purchased by food service and added to the schools lunch program. The revenue from food service purchases is used to create scholarships for students in the ag program, as well as purchase seeds and maintenance materials for the machine. A second machine was also purchased to keep up with the demand.
Other Green Machines were placed with Pittsville Food Service Director, Matthew Andres; Auburndale Agriscience Instructor, Mark Cournoyer; Nekoosa High School Science Teacher, Mike Schoenfeld; and Port Edwards Ecology Club Advisor, Jeanne Bruener.
Previous to the Green Machine project, Tim Heeg, Agriculture and Science Teacher for Marshfield High School, had successfully implemented a hydroponic growing system.
Andres is currently on his third round of harvest of romaine lettuce used for school lunches and is looking forward to experimenting with growing peppers in the future.
Heeg has also found success in the growing system. Lettuce harvested was used for a Lunch Café program hosted by the Marshfield Family Consumer Sciences students, packaged for families to take home, and will be put into the middle schools lunch program.
Wood County’s two largest food pantries – South Wood Emerging Pantry Shelf (SWEPS) and St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) Outreach – have also received Green Machines.
Dale Davis, operations manager for SWEPS said, “The unit has been such a fun and new way to put fresh greens on the table. Our clients love it and are excited that we grew the lettuce right here at the pantry.”