By Celis Brisbin, Programs Manager

Fifty seven 8th graders at William H. Lincoln School in Brookline, MA took on the challenge of trying to grow food during the entire year here in New England!

Thanks to a mini grant from HMFH thorugh the USGBC MA Chapter's Green Apple Day of Service program, we were able to put this project together. The students are divided into three classes and each class was assigned an area in the garden to use for this challenge. (Two raised beds and one flat bed).  The students researched to learn about possible solutions to help keep plants from freezing while receiving as much solar energy as possible. They designed and conducted experiments to better understand the properties of insulators vs conductors, what makes some substances able to store and slowly release heat and how greenhouses trap infrared radiation to stay warm. They needed to investigate possible materials to use and work within a budget. 

Using this information they designed and built temporary greenhouses over their garden spaces which incorporated various insulators, cinder blocks and containers of water painted black to act as thermal masses to keep temperatures above freezing at night. They included different styles of compost methods within the greenhouses to capture the heat produced through that process.
Each class designed a unique solution to the space they were assigned.After determining which plants varieties would do best in cold conditions (varieties of Kale, chard, spinach, carrots and lettuce) these were germinated in the classroom and transplanted outside after the greenhouses were completed. The lettuce was harvested and eaten prior to planting outdoors (the kids decided it was at that “perfectly delicious” stage) so lettuce is being started from seed in the greenhouses. Taking a lead from “The Martian”, potatoes have also been planted. (If they could be grown on Mars we should be able to grow them in New England in the winter!)

The 8th graders created presentations posted at the entrance of the school for community education describing the different components of the greenhouse project and how all work together to create a sustainable environment for the plants. 

With the greenhouses up and working, the lower grades were invited for garden tours. Nine classes of K-6th graders had the greenhouse workings explained and students were allowed to go in and visit the plants. Harvested plants will be shared with the lower grade classes. 

Along the way the 8th graders also became involved with a local gardening organization, Bountiful Brookline. This organization organized a showing of the documentary on food waste called “Just Eat It” and held a panel discussion for the community as part of National Food Day in October.
The students were offered an opportunity to do additional fundraising for their garden project by running a bake sale. The students gathered “rescued foods” from the community to use as theingredients. Muffins, breads, and pies were baked using apples, bananas and pumpkins that would otherwise have been thrown out.  While selling their baked goods the students spoke to the folks in attendance about their garden project challenge.

Building a greenhouse allowed the students to create a working model of planet Earth. (Earth’s Greenhouse Effect, the moderating effects of ocean thermal masses on climate, water cycle.) The Climate Negotiations in Paris were that much more meaningful as the students found themselves dealing with an unexpected problem. The unusually warm weather we have been experiencing has put our plants at risk of being overheated rather than frozen as temperatures inside the greenhouses have reached over 130˚ F in December! 

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