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Ed Lewis, the coordinator of the new greenhouse at Wadena-Deer Creek Middle/High School, talks to Jeff Mehl's fourth-grade class. The school district is incorporating lettuce, spinach and radishes grown at the greenhouse into meals.

Greenhouse produce freshens up WDC lunches

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Some of the vegetables in Wadena-Deer Creek school lunches haven't traveled very far.

They're grown right on the middle/high school grounds in a greenhouse that opened in November.

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So far, the harvest is limited and the fresh food runs out quickly. But Ed Lewis, the school's greenhouse coordinator, is developing a crop rotation that will ensure produce will be consistently available throughout the school year. He hopes to start an outdoor garden this summer.

Radishes, spinach and lettuce have already appeared in lunches. Lewis is also growing green beans, carrots, snap peas, kale and strawberries. Classes from all grade levels regularly stop by the greenhouse to learn about gardening and plant flowers.

"I like the thought of knowing where my food is coming from," said WDC junior Blake Connell between bites of mixed greens, which included some spinach grown in the greenhouse. "You can tell that it's homegrown."

Senior Nick Carlson said anything that can make school lunch better is worthwhile. "Fresh food is better than frozen food."

Before lunch last week, head cook Darla Hayes said it's not just about saving money and feeding students higher quality food, she said. There's an educational component, too.

"Some kids don't realize what comes out of a garden," Hayes said.

In the greenhouse - heated to 72 degrees by the sun alone - Lewis tended to his plants before a class of elementary students dropped by.

The 61-year-old has been gardening since he was two or three.

"I've always enjoyed the freshness of the stuff you grow yourself," said Lewis, who is also the pastor at First Missionary Baptist Church in Wadena. "I love doing it so much. My gift is to give back what I grow out here."

He doesn't use any pesticides or herbicides and the only fertilizer he uses is fish emulsion.

Lewis said it's important for children to learn that food doesn't originate in a grocery store; it starts in the ground.

"(Students) can take what they do here back home," he said, "and do the same thing with a few seeds, some soil and water."

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