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Ag PTECH students look to build high tunnel to grow produce

December 8, 2017 | Filed in Archive
Three students behind a podium presenting with a screen showing an aerial view of the school property behind them

Freshmen Joslynn Wrobel, Alexis Sanguine and Mekhi Pettit present their plans for a high tunnel to the OESJ board of education.

Agriculture PTECH students on Wednesday, Dec. 6, presented their preliminary plans for a 20-foot-by-48-foot, Gothic-style high tunnel greenhouse to the Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville School District Board of Education. The students hope to use funds from the Soil and Water Conservation Districts in Montgomery and Fulton counties to build the structure next spring on the school’s grounds.

Freshmen Joslynn Wrobel, Alexis Sanguine and Mekhi Pettit told the board members that with the new high tunnel, Ag PTECH students would have the opportunity to get their hands dirty and grow their own produce on the property behind the former D.H. Robbins Elementary School, the building now occupied by Ag PTECH, which the OESJ school district owns.

The Soil and Water Conservation Districts in Montgomery and Fulton counties partnered to apply for funding for the project from the New York State Soil and Water Conservation Committee, which recently approved the application. The local entities secured $12,000 for the high tunnel materials, construction, the irrigation and ventilation systems, plants for the inaugural year, and any other expenses the students encounter while getting it up and running.

“Our office believes the next generation is the future of agriculture,” said Julicia Godbout, the agriculture economic development coordinator for the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District. “The benefit of this is that it gets students out of the classroom and gets them getting their hands dirty, doing it themselves and learning.”

With their pitched roofs, gothic-style high tunnels are designed to easily shed snow, an important factor for the location. The structures extend growing seasons, improve pest control and can increase crop yield. The high roof will allow students to grow taller plants and give them more freedom in choosing what they grow, Godbout said.

This fall, Ag PTECH freshmen worked in groups to design irrigation and ventilation systems for the high tunnel, plan the layout and what types of fruits and vegetables would grow best, and figure out a long-term maintenance plan. They presented their concepts to Godbout, who provided professional feedback. “They had a great idea in mind for sustaining the program long-term,” Godbout said about the students’ plans to sell some of the produce they grow to ensure they can continue to invest in the program for years to come.

In addition to selling fruits and vegetables locally, students said they are looking forward to having fresh produce to eat that they grew themselves.

“If we plant fruits and vegetables, we can have fresh produce for breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria instead of canned or frozen,” said ninth-grader Sanguine, who is in the Introduction to Agriculture Science class. “Plus, there’s the educational aspect of learning the plant cycle.”

Agriculture science teacher Julia Hudyncia agreed, saying it’s important for the students to grow their own food. “This takes learning the growing process to the next level,” she said. “It’s such an authentic project. Seeing their excitement about the whole thing was powerful to me.”

Pending board approval, Godbout said the structure could go up as early as April, with the construction and planting timeline dependent on the early spring weather.