What has four corners, is youth-run, and fosters quality learning experiences and career readiness?
Afterschool programming, meet The Greenery.
On Saturday, April 24, Beyond School Bells (BSB), Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s afterschool network, and The Bay, a Lincoln youth service organization, hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for this high-tech hydroponic farm. We’re grateful to The Ben Hormel Harris Foundation, which gifted The Greenery to the city of Lincoln.
The Greenery is a compact growing container created by Freight Farms, a Boston-based ag-tech company. The Greenery is the equivalent to 2.5-acres worth of farmland in its contained space. BSB and the Bay have since decided to use this cutting-edge farm to bring quality STEM learning and innovation to Lincoln.
Anna Wishart, BSB’s Director of Partnerships, delivered her remarks at the ribbon-cutting event. “We are so excited to be launching this partnership with The Bay,” she said.
Anna said, “We are bringing a state-of-the-art hydroponic farm to Lincoln called the Freight Farms’ Greenery. This farm is capable of growing up to 13,000 plants at a time.”
Anna said The Greenery is unique, as local youth will oversee all its projects. Traditionally, adults have utilized these growing containers for commerce-related uses. Lincoln is innovative in that young people will run the program while learning essential 21st century career skills and growing fresh greens.
“And while there are many of these [grow containers] across the country that are used commercially, this will be one of the few that is exclusively run by youth from college students down to elementary students,” said Anna.
Anna said, “Those who work in The Greenery will be able to participate in a variety of activities from planting seeds to managing crops, to learning the technology that makes this modern farming possible.”
The list of youth-run projects, according to Anna and the BSB team, is ever-growing.
Anna said, “[Young people] will be selling this produce at the Farmers’ Market. They will be providing fresh food for Food Banks, and they will be sourcing their food to local restaurants as well. And this also creates an incredible platform for youth to learn entrepreneurship and sustainable high-tech agriculture and explore future careers in that space.”
Moreover, Anna said that young people will sell their produce in brand-specific Bay Boxes. In addition to utilizing this packaging, youth will learn business skills as well while selling their products.
At the ceremony, BSB Network Lead Jeff Cole echoed Anna’s excitement. “The Greenery is a crown jewel in what we’re looking at as a connected web of out of school time gardening activities starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school,” said Jeff.
Jeff said that the influence of The Greenery will expand beyond The Bay and into other organizations as well.
“We are partnering with the Malone Center, to work with kids who are planting sunflower seeds in Dixie cups and starting to get hands-on experience very early on,” said Jeff.
“From that starting point, we envision a continuum of connected learning experiences in afterschool programs that give kids age-appropriate opportunities to participate in starting a community garden next to their school, to do an aquaponics grow tower in [their] school building, to go out into facilities like The Career Academy, where they have an automated farming system called the FarmBot,” said Jeff.
Jeff said that this compact farm represents a creative departure for afterschool programming. “We think that we can use the out-of-school time and hours in a more creative way than we have in the past,” said Jeff.
Jeff said that he envisions The Greenery as containing more than just greens, but to boot, providing linked learning experiences. “[We intend] to move from a series of isolated experiences to scaffolded learning that create the kind of kids who are ready to solve the challenges and have the skills that we need to be prepared as a state to prosper in the future. Beyond School Bells wants to be a part of that,” said Jeff.
Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird spoke at the ribbon-cutting, too. “Experiential hands-on learning is one of the best ways to reach young people. It matters to get your fingers in the soil, or to grow greens from seedling to finish. It matters to have those kinds of real experiences that aren’t just about books or something that you read on the internet,” she said.
Mayor Gaylor Baird also reiterated Jeff and Anna’s enthusiasm. “I’m so pleased that we have a community that is growing in its momentum around issues about how we make our city more resilient and more smart and sustainable. With The Greenery, I guess you can say that we not only think outside the box; we’re thinking inside the box,” she said.
Also in attendance at the ribbon-cutting ceremony included Dr. Steve Joel, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools, Sändra Washington and Tammy Ward, from Lincoln City Council, Senator Eliot Bostar, Andrew Norman, and Mike Smith, Executive Directors and Co-Founders of The Bay/Rabble Mill.
We’re thankful to our sponsors, The Harris Foundation, Olsson, ABC Electric, Lincoln Electrical JATC, Oak Electric Inc., Concrete Craft, The Nebraska Environmental Trust, NECA IBEW, Electrical Workers Local 265, Select Plumbing and Utility, and UNL Honors.
Nebraska Children is glad to see Beyond School Bells living out our collective mission to create positive change through community engagement. We know that this work isn’t easy – but that it’s well worth being green with The Greenery.