Posted on 24 January 2015.
The history of the Alvord area includes rich soil, big gardens and a thriving farmer’s market – even commercial vegetable production.
That era may never return, but students in Alvord ISD will get more than a glimpse of how a horticultural operation works when they begin hands-on study in the new greenhouse being constructed at Alvord High School.
READY TO GROW – Alvord High School ag teacher Sharon Sackett and her students are looking forward to the day when they can begin using their new greenhouse. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
The school board approved $40,000 for the greenhouse back in June, hoping to get the facility delivered, installed and functioning by the time classes started last August.
It hasn’t exactly hit that timeline – but it is going up now behind the high school. Students should be using it within a few weeks.
For ag teacher Sharon Sackett, it can’t come soon enough.
“Last year we started all of our seeds in the classroom,” she said. “I got a bunch of propagating mats, and Mr. [fellow ag teacher Jeremiah] Green built me a grow-light stand. You can do it, and it’s great, but everything’s not controlled. Temperature is not controlled. Water is not controlled.”
Nevertheless, her horticulture students started a few hundred pepper and tomato plants in the classroom. They gave them away “to kind of get the kids started.”
This spring, look for them to be selling seedlings as a fundraiser for the up-and-coming program.
Sackett, a native of Missouri, is in her third year at Alvord. She also teaches landscape design, two classes of ninth grade principles of agriculture, two wildlife management classes – which will incorporate the school’s new archery program – and floral design.
She’s been researching greenhouses for a couple of years.
GOING UP – Work continues on the new greenhouse, which should be completed within a few weeks. The school board approved the $40,000 project last June. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
“I took a greenhouse management class through North Central Texas College (in Gainesville) last year to learn more about it,” she said. “I looked at several brands, then started going around to different schools to look at their greenhouses.
“I really liked Bowie’s because it wasn’t too small, but it wasn’t too big for the number of kids we have,” she said. “Everything is easily accessible.”
Bowie put in their own irrigation system. Alvord is having the company install theirs – one of the things that delayed installation. The water system is zoned and automated, so all the plants get watered by various delivery methods when they need it. It can even be pre-set to water during holidays.
School maintenance personnel will extend gas and water lines to the greenhouse, which will have a pea-gravel floor with one sidewalk down the middle to make it wheelchair-accessible. Green’s welding students will build the benches, and landscape design kids will help with the layout.
Sackett said a surprising number of schools have greenhouses as a teaching tool.
“There’s a lot of money in the green industry, and these kids can learn so many life skills from it,” she said. “Not only can I use it, biology can use the greenhouse, our foods and nutrition class – I want to get them out there so they can grow their own herbs for the kitchen. I want to incorporate a lot of different classes to use it, not just horticulture.”
She plans to start seedlings in there as soon as she can. Plans also include container-grown plants, hanging baskets – even a community garden – with an emphasis on organics and heirloom seeds.
“We’ve put in a couple of raised-bed boxes, but I would like to elaborate on that once we get our greenhouse in,” she said. “We started an outdoor habitat for the wildlife class. We’ve got a pond, bird houses, bird feeders, squirrel feeders. We’re going to try and get that started.
“We’ve come a long way, but there’s a lot of work yet to do.”
Sackett secured a $700 grant from the Wise County Soil & Water Conservation District to help purchase some live oak trees and other plants, as well as rain barrels – and she knows there’s more grant money out there.
“We’re going to try to get certified as a backyard habitat through Texas Parks and Wildlife,” she said. “Hopefully I can kind of gear toward an outdoor classroom, bring the elementary kids over, utilize biology and kind of do some micro-climate type things.”
A future curriculum may even include a greenhouse management class.
Her 60 or 70 students like to get outside and work, she said. They’ve done quite a bit of landscaping around the school building and plan to do more.
“They do a whole lot better with hands-on than they do with paperwork,” she said. “They show more interest in school when they can actually say, ‘Hey, I grew that!'”