At St. Thomas More School in Spokane, Washington, the community’s most significant service initiative revolves around growing food. From kindergarten to 8th grade, every student participates in planting, maintaining, and harvesting fresh produce from the school’s garden. This nourishing harvest finds its way to the on-site food bank, benefiting families in need. However, until recently, the availability of fresh produce was constrained by the outdoor growing season.
Enter the transformative power of a Ceres educational greenhouse with an integrated aquaponics system. This innovative addition allows St. Thomas More to cultivate fresh food year-round, breaking free from the limitations of the seasons. We had the opportunity to speak with the school’s former principal, Doug Banks, who’s vision and determination played a pivotal role in bringing this greenhouse project to life.
Doug, who retired after a remarkable 42 years at STM, continues to consult and actively maintains the greenhouse. The idea of adding a greenhouse blossomed as the school embraced a shift towards a STEM-centered approach. This transformation triggered the establishment of a school garden, imparting scientific knowledge to students and simultaneously supplying the food bank.
With knowledge passed down from the original fifth graders who researched irrigation methods, growing mediums, and garden designs, students continue to tend this outdoor garden that produces an impressive 600-800 pounds of fresh produce each summer.
Doug’s visit to Epcot in Florida a few years ago marked a turning point. Inspired by hydroponics, he forged a partnership with Spokane’s Catholic charities to fund an aquaponics greenhouse. The goal was simple: to amplify food production for the community’s benefit.
Thanks to this collaboration, the greenhouse was completed by late 2022, and its transformative impact was undeniable. Students, particularly the new fifth graders, embraced the opportunity to learn and teach about growing with aquaponics. From tomatoes to leafy greens, each grade planted around 500 seeds, eventually harvesting lettuce in just 4-6 weeks. This last year every grade was involved in the planting and harvesting, making the greenhouse a campus-wide
Valerie Barnes, the head STEM teacher, emphasized the holistic learning experience. Students grasp not only the art of cultivation but also the importance of harvesting, cleaning, and packaging produce for donation. Engaging students in every aspect of the food growing process fosters enthusiasm, and the greenhouse has become a cherished space they eagerly return to. The greenhouse environment has also offered valuable lessons, demonstrating that growth can flourish even during winter, a time when it’s too cold for recess.
Valerie Barnes teaching a class in the greenhouse
The journey has elevated the STEM curriculum, bridging the gap between outdoor seasonal planting and year-round food production. Ultimately, St. Thomas More School’s journey is a testament to the profound impact that a Ceres greenhouse can have on education and the community. By nurturing both minds and the health of the community, the school has created a legacy that bridges learning with sustainable practices and compassion, fostering a brighter future for all.
If you are interested in a greenhouse for your school, contact us today!