Teacher’s greenhouse project donates produce to local food bank, educates students, brings community together
EAST LANSING – Last year, Michigan Education Association member Bill Boerman launched an ambitious greenhouse project at Holland Middle School knowing it would pay big dividends toward his STEM students learning the fundamentals of design, gardening and nutrition.
It’s led to a public service Boerman couldn’t have imagined — delivering fresh produce to a local food bank for people thrust into need by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been cool to see the project transition from an educational purpose to more of a community support effort,” Boerman, a 22-year veteran educator, said. “I never would have envisioned operating a greenhouse in the middle of a pandemic, but God works in funny ways.”
With the help of fellow teachers, Boerman donates the harvested crops to the Community Action House food bank, located at 345 W. 14th St. in Holland.
It’s a labor of love — and one that continues to resonate throughout the Holland community. Plans are underway to open the greenhouse to the entire community, allowing anyone interested to harvest crops this summer once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Boerman is also considering moving his mobile kitchen unit — paid for with community donations — to the greenhouse, allowing families from different cultural backgrounds to gather, harvest, cook and dine together. This, too, would depend on lifting of COVID-19 health and safety restrictions.
To date, the greenhouse has been harvested three times, with the yield growing from 21 pounds, to 35 pounds to 40 pounds of lettuce, Swiss chard and kale. Cucumbers, tomatoes, raspberries and blackberries are currently blossoming, and corn is growing on the stalk. Additional crops, including bell peppers, peas, beans and watermelon have been planted and are expected to be ready to harvest by August.
The project continues to provide new educational opportunities for students.
Last week, Boerman installed an upgraded irrigation system that includes different watering zones that — once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted — will allow students to monitor watering volume and measure soil moisture. The irrigation system was donated by Ridge Point Community Church.
“Everywhere around the country and the world, people are out of work and struggling,” he said. “To be able to use their greenhouse and school resources to help the community is good for the kids. They want to know they’re helping.”