BUCKHANNON — West Virginia Wesleyan College cut the ribbon on what will soon be a fully functioning greenhouse that will bring locally grown food to the dining center and help out the Upshur Parish House.
LeAnn Brown, director of community engagement and leadership development, said Aladdin executive chef Patrick O’Brien suggested a college greenhouse two years ago.
“When he approached me about that idea, my thought immediately was that it would be a great idea for our students to see how our food is grown,” she said. “For Patrick, it was food-oriented and for me it was learning-oriented.”
Brown and the college searched for funding and were awarded a United States Department of Agriculture Specialty CROP Grant of $25,000 and a $2,000 Try This! West Virginia mini-grant for the 26-by-48-foot high tunnel greenhouse to be located behind the Dunn Hall parking lot.
“We will have two plantings a year,” Brown said. “Our seedlings are under a greenhouse now at Buckhannon-Upshur High School. The FFA students planted the seeds and our students are ready to transplant them to what will be 11 raised beds.”
The raised beds will then be ready to harvest the first of June. The food will go to the Aladdin Dining Center and the Parish House’s Crosslines Food Pantry.
O’Brien has already begun working on another part of the grant, twice monthly cooking classes that have been hosted at the Parish House.
“We always had this idea that we wanted to not only educate our students about food, but we always want to talk about how we serve the community,” Brown said.
West Virginia Wesleyan College’s young neighbors from the Child Development Center will also reap learning opportunities from the greenhouse. They have been given their own bed to plant what they would like.
A community effort is making the greenhouse and the plants that will be housed in it possible.
“We have student volunteers and community folks,” Brown said. “I have an army of people who want to do things. What we are looking at right now is the coordination piece.”
“We have a lot of people who do have that knowledge,” she added. “We have agriculture agents, we have FFA students, we have our city horticulturist Robbie Barbor, who has been extremely helpful to us. So we do have experts who can guide us.”
O’Brien, who is also the assistant food services director at Wesleyan, believes in the locally grown food movement.
“Food trends are changing all over,” he said. “I think it’s an important initiative for Aladdin and different companies to accentuate the fresh foods and locally grown produce brought into to our dining facilities. It will educate students on where our food comes from and they can appreciate what is on their plate a little more.”
O’Brien said students ages 18-22 really want to know where their food is coming from.
“They are a little more educated than even 10 years ago,” he said.
The greenhouse should be finished in the next two to three weeks and the seedlings from the high school can be transplanted.
This first season, O’Brien said the greenhouse will have things like herbs, tomatoes and peppers as a trial run.
“These are easily maintainable,” he said. “That way we can at least get some things in the ground this season and get it rocking and rolling.”
Brown said that future plans call for three plantings a year and a compost operation.