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Student-run greenhouse open for another season

WILLMAR -- The hanging baskets and the petunias are blooming brightly at the FFA greenhouse in Renville. Geranium blooms are starting to peek out.

The greenhouse operated by the Renville County West School District FFA was a popular attraction last week for people who just couldn't wait to get their hands in the dirt. The greenhouse opened for the season on April 19.

The greenhouse is staffed by students from the FFA, under the direction of teacher Darrel Refsland.

The first year the organization operated the greenhouse in its original location. Last year, the greenhouse was moved to school property along U.S. Highway 212 in Renville.

This spring, the high school's horticulture class will add some landscaping to the site, Refsland said. The class will also do some landscaping outside the school.

Last year, they worked on moving the building, he said, and road construction cut into business at the end, so this will be the first full season at the new location.

Improvements to the greenhouse are funded by income from the business. "It's self-sufficient," Refsland said. The greenhouse does $30,000 to $35,000 worth of business in a season.

"It's a pretty decent business," he said. "Mother's Day is unbelievable, and Memorial Day." The FFA members will plant planters for customers, he said, and will take plants to gravesites for Memorial Day.

Refsland said the FFA members get a lot out of working at the greenhouse.

"My goal in this is to teach them some business skills," he said. "I stress customer service."

Ellen Sorgatz of Sacred Heart was shopping at the greenhouse for the first time. "They've got some nice plants here," she said.

Julie Bonnema of rural Raymond is a longtime customer, from the time the greenhouse was a private business.

Both women bought flowers, saying they were anxious to get started on their window boxes and flower beds.

In each case, students found boxes for them and offered to carry their purchases to their car.

Cory Eischens, a senior from Renville and FFA president, said the greenhouse has been fun. "It keeps us busy this time of year. ... It's not quite early enough to go fishing."

The greenhouse has taught the members how to take care of a business, and "it teaches the responsibility of having to worry about money," Eischens said.

During the school year, two FFA students spend the school day working at the greenhouse. Refsland's cell phone number is at hand if they have questions. The students are excused from school a maximum of two times.

After school another one or two students work from 3:10 to 7 p.m. The greenhouse is also open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Once school is out, students will continue to work at the greenhouse into late June, Refsland said.

The volunteers who work outside school hours receive a small stipend. The money is banked for them, and they can use it to pay for FFA trips. If they still have a balance when they graduate, they will get a check in the mail.

New this year will be a 50-by-50 outdoor garden plot. Refsland enlisted the help of sixth-graders to help him stake out the perimeter last week.

His plan is to make part of the plot a "fun garden" with unusual plants from A to Z. It will be a way to integrate elementary students into the effort, he said.

Another part will provide examples of 4-by-4 gardening, to show people a type of garden that can provide vegetables for a family using a limited amount of space, Refsland said. A 4-by-4 garden plot is divided into 16 planting areas, each one square foot.

What's planted in them depends on what a family wants to eat, he said. There could be beans in one square, lettuce in another and carrots in another. Potatoes could be planted across two squares.

His eventual goal is to have raised beds for the 4-by-4 gardens, Refsland said, but there won't be enough time to do that this year.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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