Centre school district learned recently that it is one of eight Kansas schools awarded a $12,500 Farm to School pilot grant to expand the availability of fresh, local foods in the school cafeteria and bolster agriculture and nutrition education.
Ag teacher Jay Obrien wrote the grant application, with input from his associate, Laura Klenda, and other teachers.
Centre has had a horticulture department and a greenhouse since 1998. The district approved school gardens at the Lost Springs elementary school facility and at the high school site in the fall of 2009. Kirk Cusick from Whispering Cottonwood Farm Educational Center, Salina, directed the project.
In April 2010, Centre Elementary School was named the 2010 Kansas Green School of the Year by the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education. A special day was set aside to celebrate the award. The event was attended by representatives of the Kansas Department of Agriculture and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
When elementary school students moved to the high school site in the fall of 2011, the focus shifted to that site.
Kusick lost funding for his involvement in Centre’s garden project that winter, putting the project in limbo. However, high school biology teacher Cindy Riedel received approval from the board of education to continue the project. A high school student, Tom Oborny, volunteered to work with the various elementary school classes in the garden during the 2012 spring season.
That spring, school nurse Deb Casey and her husband, Larry, built six cedar wood frames for raised beds and brought in soil to fill them.
Some of the grant money will be used to expand the garden. Klenda said they would like to have a plot or raised bed for each grade level.
Several changes are being planned for the greenhouse. An energy shield mesh to be placed across the top interior of the greenhouse will conserve energy and promote a better growing environment. Horticulture students will experiment with developing a hydroponics system, a way of producing plants without soil, in water infused with mineral nutrients. A 150-gallon tank of water will be installed to produce tilapia fish.
The ag department plans to establish a fruit orchard this spring south of the metals workshop.
“We’re hitting the ground running,” Klenda said.
The district has two years to invest the funds. The hope is that more food will be produced for school breakfasts and lunches.