The greenhouse at McLean County High School will soon see more foot traffic than the students taking care of a variety of flowers, plants and more that have been growing since the fall semester.
Upon arriving back from spring break, the students will show off their efforts with their annual greenhouse sale beginning at 8:30 am April 11.
“This is a student-ran greenhouse. From part of the decision making all the way through to the sale and everything in-between,” said Benji Kilgore, ag teacher and FFA advisor at MCHS. “The students are hands-on and taking care of most of the legwork behind it.”
Kilgore said that the sale occurred last year and proved to be a different experience that he’s encountered before.
“I feel like our sale last year went really well,” Kilgore said. “It was my first time being in charge of a greenhouse sale. Whenever I was in high school, of course I helped with our FFA greenhouse sale. But last year was the first time of doing it on my own and being on the teacher’s side of the greenhouse sale, and I did have a little bit of a learning curve with that…. And especially being in a new area, I didn’t know what sold well….”
Some of his observations included realizing that the public preferred four-packs and six-packs over the four-inch pots for many of the bedding plants.
For this year, Kilgore decided to double the orders for sweet potato vine and gerbera daisies due to selling out “extremely quickly,” while cutting the order of impatiens in half due to less demand.
The sale will include a larger variety by adding salvia, celosia, Swedish ivy and pansies, while also electing to order 125 solid red geraniums and another 125 mixed color geraniums that include pink and whites.
Senior Alex Stratton has been a part of the greenhouse throughout his high school experience and compliments the “full” variety in the greenhouse including marigolds, tomatoes and herbs.
But the work of growing the product in the greenhouse is only part of the sale experience, with Kilgore highlighting the importance of teamwork, people skills and collaborating with other students in the class.
“We try to set it up to where we kind of do it in stations,” Kilgore said. “Some students are mixing our soil and filling our pots. Some students are transporting the pots after they are filled to the planter station and then the planter station will plant the seeds or the plugs or the cutting … and then there’s other people reorganizing the greenhouse, putting the things where they need to go and making sure it looks the best that it can. That’s a good working with others skill that the kids get to work with and build on outside of the classroom setting.”
Kilgore emphasizes the use of people skills to do work outside of the scheduled class time by helping out with greenhouse sale itself.
“They get to interact with the community when they come in to buy plants at the greenhouse sale,” Kilgore said. “Help them, show them around, tell them what plants we have whether they are shade-tolerant, prefer full-sun and help make some arrangements as well with that.”
One of the other experiences that the students deal with is the reality of the agricultural world.
“Some of the plants take off and do great and then some of the seeds don’t sprout,” Kilgore said. “You do get to see the real-life impact of ‘OK, we spent this much money on this seed or this plug’ and whenever it dies or doesn’t produce well, you can’t sell it for full price or you can ‘t sell it at all and you get the business aspect behind that as well.”
Makayla Kitchens, another senior student, takes away something more personal from the experience while learning the skills of leadership and management.
“I like making the friends in the greenhouse and talking to people that you wouldn’t normally talk to in other classes,” Kitchens said. “…Whenever we’re running it, it’s all student-ran so we get to go out there and help sell and we put a binder together so it really teaches us on how to run things on our own and help manage it. ”
Cadence Keister, a junior, notes that it also helps the public become more aware of their presence and potentially help them with their own careers.
“It helps us get our names out there to the community for maybe future jobs or reference or anything when we help them pick out their plants that they want,” Keister said.
But the sale doesn’t shine a light on the prep work behind the scenes.
Before growing the product, Kilgore began a dialogue with students in September about their thoughts on the previous greenhouse sale and gauging their ideas and come up with a list of plants of what to have in the greenhouse for the year, before figuring out what the group needs to order regarding plugs, pots and supplies.
This year’s plug order of 2,600 arrived all at once in February.
“Every single class, on top of the greenhouse class, were in the greenhouse fixing pots, filling with soil, planting plugs and staying extremely busy,” Kilgore said.
Students also make sure to do a number of leaf and soil checks, health checks of the plants themselves, picking the blooms and look for insects and pests that may potentially damage the product in any way before opening their doors for the sale.
For the vegetables, Kilgore said the students start the seeds in propagation trays, observe them grow while also doing a germination percentage count before transplanting them to bigger pots.
The sale not only helps students learn hands-on skills but continues to keep them afloat for the future.
“The greenhouse is our largest fundraiser that the FFA (does),” Kilgore said. “The money does go back to preparing for the greenhouse next year but it also goes to help our FFA chapter. The money that isn’t used for next year’s product goes back to the students for trips, contests or classroom supplies….
“It’s a very rewarding part of our classes. You get the visual reward of seeing something start from a little bitty seed to a giant tomato plant or a little tiny plug seedling growing into a beautiful hanging basket of wave petunias.”
The greenhouse sale will continue each week until sell out from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm Monday-Thursday, 8:30 am to 5 pm Friday and 8 am to noon Saturday.
Freddie Bourne, email@example.com