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RSDP Happenings - Focus: Central Region

April 2014

By Ronnie Schwenn

Deep Winter Greenhouse Enriches Wadena Community, Youth

The organizers of the brand new deep-winter greenhouse in Wadena, Minnesota picked an especially harsh winter to open for their first season. The greenhouse has been in operation since its grand opening on November 20th, 2013, and is already producing vegetables like radishes, lettuce, and peas--even through the worst of this winter's polar vortex. The project is an example of how the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) contribute to a vibrant and sustainable future for communities in greater Minnesota.

The greenhouse is located just outside of Wadena-Deer Creek High School in Wadena, a town of 4,000 people about 160 miles northwest of the metro area. Inside, there are seven raised planting beds and 30 hanging planters made from pieces of rain gutter. The self-contained greenhouse stays warm by using solar power to draw heat down into the ground and then release it slowly overnight through vent tubes, and there is a well on-site for water.

Ed Lewis

Ed Lewis shows some first graders around the greenhouse.

The success of Wadena's deep-winter greenhouse has been five years in the making. Dave Evertt, one of the project's lead organizers, credits University of Minnesota Extension Horticulture Educator Terry Nennich with the original idea for the greenhouse. At the time, Nennich was the chair of the Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (CRSDP) and did a lot of work with the Partnership's local foods group, building on his long-term interest in teaching the next generation of rural Minnesotans about growing food locally and incorporating that food into their diet to improve their health.

Nennich organized a statewide conference on high tunnels--now an annual event-- that gave Evertt and fellow community member Del Moen the education they needed to decide how they wanted to proceed. Shortly after the convention, Evertt and Moen met Chuck Waibel, who introduced them to deep-winter and solar technology. Waibel, who passed away last August, was a tireless advocate for year-round greenhouses that work in Minnesota's long winters. Evertt and Moen decided that the greenhouses Waibel and his spouse Carol Ford had designed and constructed were perfectly suited for what they had in mind. They took on the task of creating a deep-winter greenhouse in central Minnesota.

According to Evertt, "Without RSDP it never would have happened, to be perfectly frank," and he credits Nennich and CRSDP for following the project through all its phases. CRSDP, which connects communities in central Minnesota with the resources of the University of Minnesota, also contributed funds to the project, along with the Wadena Elks Lodge, Statewide Health Improvement Program and Wadena Public Health.

Some first graders enjoying the tour.

Some first graders enjoying the tour.

Over the course of its development, the greenhouse had more than a hundred community volunteers, and all their hard work is now going to good use. The food grown in the greenhouse is going directly into the Wadena-Deer Creek High School cafeteria to be used in new, healthy menus. Students continue to volunteer in the greenhouse and learn about how healthy food can be grown locally.

Volunteer Ed Lewis first became involved when he was recruited to build the raised and hanging planters for the greenhouse. He liked the project's mission, and is now working as the greenhouse caretaker. In addition to planting and harvesting, he gives students of the Wadena-Deer Creek School District tours of the greenhouse to show them that it is possible to grow fresh, healthy foods all year long. "One of the big things we want to do with this is show the community and the students what they can do through the winter," he said.

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