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MCI Uses Solar Energy to Grow Produce

Release Date: 08/18/2015

As a way to encourage growing and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, Maine Central Institute (MCI) in Pittsfield is using grant money awarded by the Kohl’s Cares program to erect a solar greenhouse on the high school campus. MCI is one of seven local area schools that are creating garden-based curriculum to encourage students to discover the benefits of healthy eating, learn about local food, and explore the science behind farming. The program is managed locally by Sebasticook Valley Health (SVH).

With the curriculum developed by science teacher Adam Pomeroy, MCI students spent the school year planning and then growing tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other crops from seed using a new solar greenhouse that was constructed last fall. By early May, students had filled the solar greenhouse with seedlings that will be transplanted to an on-campus garden, which will soon provide fresh local produce to students and the public.

Mr. Pomeroy explained, “The garden will be maintained throughout the summer months (when school is not in session) by volunteers and community members, then the harvested fruits and vegetables will be used in the school cafeteria and donated to a local food pantry. Students will also learn pickling and canning as ways to preserve fresh produce during the winter months.”

Unlike a traditional greenhouse, a solar greenhouse collects and stores energy from the sun. The stored energy is used to warm the greenhouse on overcast days and at night, as well as displace heat when the greenhouse gets too warm for delicate seedlings to grow. The solar panels and energy collection system were installed by Insource Renewables, which is owned and operated by MCI alumni Vaughan Woodruff of Pittsfield.

The benefits of solar greenhouses over traditional greenhouses are: solar greenhouses can provide fresh produce throughout the winter, when produce is expensive or out of season; solar greenhouses do not use fuel or electricity to maintain the proper growing environment for plants; and solar greenhouses enable gardeners to grow their own seedlings, which can be a more affordable option.

SVH received a gift of $106,765 from Kohl’s Department stores last fall to launch the Kohl's Cares®: Creating Healthy Communities for Kids program in the Sebasticook Valley region. Coordinated by SVH, the program will support the development of community and school based gardens, the integration of gardening curriculum in local schools, and the coordination of farm tours for youth and families. The intent is to increase access to local healthy foods while providing nutrition education.

To learn more, visit www.KohlsCaresAboutME.org or contact Sharon Kimball, EdD., SVH Community Health Project Specialist at 487-3890 ext. 2736.