MIHS growing its own food in greenhouse

New $231K facility gives students chance to learn food skills
By: 

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Klint Hischke, right, who manages the greenhouse and teaches science at Menominee Indian High School, shows the roots on a bed of lettuce grown via aquaponics to, from left, Dale Kaquatosh, Rich Annamitta, Fay Annamitta and Glenda Kaquatosh, during an open house for the high school’s new greenhouse. Hischke is hoping to grow trees, wild rice and tobacco in the greenhouse in the future.

Run out of vegetables for the salad? Menominee Indian High School might be able to help with that.

Need some fish for Fridays during Lent — or any other time of year? The school has those, too.

With the help of a brand new greenhouse built on the north side of the school, the students are in great shape to grow organic food for their community. The greenhouse, which cost over $231,000 to build the interior and exterior, has the potential to help grow fresh vegetables for the Menominee Indian School District lunch program and, in the future, grow things utilized for tribal ceremonies.

Prior to the greenhouse being built, the school had utilized a grow machine that allowed lettuce to be grown in the classroom, and there had been some smaller fish tanks provided by Trout Unlimited. Despite those items helping to grow food, MIHS science teacher Klint Hischke wanted to do more and was hoping that a “small” greenhouse could be built.

His dreams more than came true with the new facility, which has been in operation for almost six months and is expected to be utilized year-round. The greenhouse is fully automated, Hischke said, with controls that allow vents to be opened and closed depending on the temperature, along with shades that open and close depending on the amount of sunlight coming in.

“We were wanting to raise our own food to live off of,” Hischke said. “We always wanted to teach our kids how to produce those foods, and when we started talking about the opportunity of building a small greenhouse … it snowballed from there into a wonderful opportunity for us.”

There are several different methods of growing in the greenhouse. The fish are raised in the aquaponics area. Lettuce and other vegetables are grown through hydroponics, with no soil being utilized and plants just growing in water. Then there is an aeroponics area, where plants are in raised garden beds receive water through spraying. In all, there are six different methods utilized.

“Right now, in a given week we can harvest 90 heads of lettuce,” Hischke said. “The kids have the opportunity to see it go from seed to full harvest, the full cycle of the life of that plant in 50 days.”

For the fish, the school plans to harvest twice a year. The greenhouse is currently home to dozens of bluegill and tilapia.

Many area high schools run their greenhouses through their FFA program, which teaches a variety of agriculture disciplines. Although MIHS plans to eventually offer some agriculture courses, according to Hischke, the greenhouse is currently operated through the biology, forestry and other science classes.

For many students, this is their first time gardening, Hischke said.

“So many kids are interested in being involved with this next year and helping throughout the summer,” he said. “It’s more hands-on. They’re getting back to their roots, and some of this is what they could do at home.”

Hischke is pleased with the progress so far, but there are also some future endeavors the school hopes to pursue. Growing wild rice in the greenhouse is planned in the future, and Hischke also hopes to help the students grow tobacco to be used for tribal ceremonies.

“One thing we hope to do is grow trees to replenish our forests through our forestry class,” Hischke said.

The growing of food locally is expected to help combat diabetes on the reservation, according to Hischke, who is hoping to eventually offer food to the community.

“That’s our big project for next year — diabetic-friendly foods,” he said.

Rich Annamitta, who went on a tour of the greenhouse Thursday, has a grandson that attends the high school and is helping to raise the plants and fish within. He grows a garden at his own home and was pleased to see that the school had a facility that would allow his grandson to better appreciate how food is created.

Annamitta noted that he shows his grandson the “old school” way to grow things, but he likes that there’s a better way that could be offered at the school.

“I’m glad that this is finally being offered to the students in their generation,” Annamitta said. “This is opening up their education and way of life to understand technology in this day and age. I see this as a brilliant thing for the high school.”

Fay Annamitta, Rich’s wife, said that gardening is an important skill that everyone should have, noting that world events could make it more difficult for communities to receive food.

“What happens when the trade wars happen and you can’t go to Walmart?” she said. “You’d better know how to garden. When things collapse with the economy, you’d better know how to garden. That’s what our great-grandparents did.”