ISHPEMING - Middle schoolers in Libby Nelson's visual arts classes at the Aspen Ridge Middle School learn about art, of course, but this fall, they've also been spending some time outside, learning about food, plants and how to grow them.
That's because Nelson is one of the teachers spearheading the hoop house project at the NICE Community Schools.
"They've planted crops on Farmville (a computer game connected to Facebook), but they've never planted a real seed," Nelson said of young people today.
Students at the Aspen Ridge Middle School have been hard at work this fall getting the school’s new hoop house ready. This week, students, including these eighth- graders, worked to dig a trench for a temporary electrical line until a solar panel system can be put in place. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
With the hope of not only helping kids to reconnect with nature, but also helping them learn more about what it takes to produce food, Nelson submitted a grant proposal to the Marquette County Health Department for a hoop house, which was constructed over the summer.
Since starting their school year, Nelson's students, as well as students from other classes, have been working to prepare the soil inside the house so a cover crop can be planted this winter. Designed to withstand Upper Peninsula winters, the hoop house will eventually be used year-round, Nelson said.
So far students and community volunteers have been working to prep the soil for planting, first aerating it and then laying down layers of donated compost, newspaper and hay, which will help put nutrients into the soil.
This week, students spent time digging a trench for a temporary electrical line that will power fans and other necessary equipment inside the hoop house.
Eventually, however, the operation will be powered by a series of solar panels placed on top of a tool shed. The panels, to be built by the district's construction trades classes, should allow the project to run exclusively on solar power.
"We want to teach kids how plants grow, where food comes from," Nelson said.
The hoop house will allow kids across the district to participate in not only growing vegetables and other plants, but also learn how to use the produce, whether in science or life skills classes.
In addition to the use of solar panels, Nelson said organizers are also attempting to develop a rainwater collection system to collect water from the building's roofs.
The district food service department is also contributing scraps for a composting system, which will further help enrich the hoop house's soil.
Eventually, Nelson said she hoped the house would yield enough food to provide snacks or material for science projects.
During the summer months, Nelson said she envisioned the hoop house being used as a community garden.
"I think it's going to be good for the community," said eighth-grade student Andrew Manzoline, who said he has never gardened before. "We need to learn it's a lot of hard work to grow food."
Even if the students don't decide to go into a field involving agriculture, Nelson said she felt working in the garden would give them skills they can use later in life.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.