High schools build greenhouses for ag education

In this photo taken on May 20, 2014, agricultural teacher David Friend waters impatiens starter plants that his plant science class just planted inside the new greenhouse, which is part of the new Agriculture Research Facility at Kiel High School in Kiel, Wis. Several Wisconsin high schools are building greenhouses to help teach students about aquaponics and sustainable agriculture. (AP Photo/Herald-Times Reporter, Sue Pischke)

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) - A growing number of Wisconsin high schools have constructed greenhouses to help teach students about agriculture, food and science amid increased interest in careers in those fields.

The facilities, which can cost millions of dollars, help students to gain experience with aquaponics systems in which fish and plants are grown together.

Kiel High School opened a $6.5 million Agricultural Research Center in September. Sheboygan Falls also has a new greenhouse, and Plymouth and Elkhart Lake-Glenbeaulah high schools have projects in the works, the Sheboygan Press Media reported Wednesday.

"Kids who are going on to college to learn about engineering, agriculture and food" will benefit from the center, Plymouth Superintendent Carrie Dassow said. "As well as students who are going on to the tech schools, as well as students who are going on to the workforce."

Plymouth already has a greenhouse, but Dassow said it's too small to meet the school's goals, including growing more food for students' lunches. The planned $1 million, 5,100-square-foot Food Science and Agriculture Center will include a 30-by-90-foot greenhouse and 30-by-80-foot classroom, along with up-to-date equipment.

Kiel's agriculture center includes in-floor heating and hydroponics and aquaponics systems. Students raise gerbils, chinchillas, parakeets and rabbits and keep larger animals, including horses and cows, for shorter periods of time.

"It is for them to get the knowledge on how to take care of an animal," agricultural instructor Katrina Pionek said. "Maybe they are not making a career out of it, but they can at least have the basic knowledge for pets at home."

Sheboygan Falls completed a 72-by-30-foot greenhouse last June with a $25,000 grant from State Farm Insurance. Agriculture teacher Bruce Brunner said students produced 1,500 pounds of food during last school year, and he hopes to do more next year.

Elkhart Lake-Glenbeaulah High School has been raising money for a $200,000 greenhouse to be built this summer.

"I think there's been a bigger push in the area for knowing where the food comes from, eating healthier ... it's a growing field and growing area for students to go into," District Administrator Ann Buechel Haack said.