Beyond Tomatoes and Poinsettias: Growing TRE Plants in the School Greenhouse

2014-06-08 11.12.03

I worked for the Forest Preserves of Cook County before coming to Niles North High School and working as a Hort Club Sponsor. You wouldn’t imagine that the the Chicago area would be a hub for the ecological restoration community, but “Chicago Wilderness” is home to many passionate groups like the North Branch Restoration Project and other individuals who are nurturing the regions most imperiled native plants.

Which brings me to an idea:

I’m wondering if it might be possible to use school greenhouses for more than mere vegetable and bedding plant production.  I am interested in developing a regional partnership — or be part of an existing partnership — between school greenhouse programs and the restoration community.   Specifically, school greenhouses would propagate native plants to support regional restoration projects and help increase the number of important species (i.e. TRE: threatened, rare, and endangered). I believe that this hands on experience could provide authentic learning opportunities, help students to develop meaningful skills, and give them the satisfaction of doing very important restoration work.

Note: there is already a similar program that involves Alligator Snapping Turtles.  Trout Unlimited also runs a similar program, Trout in the Classroom (TIC).  As part of this program, students in grades k-12 raise trout from eggs to fry.  Local students released the trout into recently restored ravine.  Why couldn’t greenhouses be used in a similar way?

I recognize that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the hort club plant sale.  From plant propagation to marketing to business, there is much that students can take away from the traditional seasonal plant sales.  I do wonder if it is time to move beyond tomatoes and poinsettas.

What are your thoughts on this project?  Have you attempted to grow natives?  Are there other organizations or individual teachers that are already using school greenhouses for this type of work?

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One Response to “Beyond Tomatoes and Poinsettias: Growing TRE Plants in the School Greenhouse”

  1. Peter Kim

    I think this is a great idea. Food will always be the gateway to opening their eyes, but it would be great if these were grown side by side, or at least in the same greenhouse. More inspired student would find ways to help endangered sedges, and/or a tastier heirloom tomato.


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