Donated greenhouse to help DACC's sustainability farm grow

Donated greenhouse to help DACC's sustainability farm grow

DANVILLE — Danville Area Community College's sustainability farm will be able to expand its vegetable and herb growing season, thanks to a local company.

Greenhouse Megastore donated a 20-by-24-foot tunnel greenhouse to the college for the farm. The structure is valued at $2,000.

"Most of the students aren't here in the summer, but that's when the bulk of our produce is ready to harvest," environmental horticulture Professor Amanda Krabbe said.

"Now we can grow earlier in the spring and later in the fall, and our students can be a part of that."

The 5-acre tract in the 400 block of North Daisy Lane is owned by Jerry Bartos and Kristi Herr, a former DACC foundation member.

In 2016, the couple began leasing the land to the college at no cost so that it could be used as a learning laboratory for students in a wide range of programs, including agriculture, horticulture, biology, culinary arts, green construction and art.

Wendy Brown, a microbiology and biology instructor, installed some bluebird nesting boxes and is raising honey bees on the land. Krabbe, students and other volunteers have planted a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Krabbe said some of the produce is used in a Farm to Fork class that she co-teaches with Dana Wheeler and in other culinary arts classes.

Most of it is given to students experiencing food insecurity and shared with the VA Illiana Health Care System, Crosspoint Human Services' women's shelter, the St. James United Methodist Church's food pantry and the Vermilion County Housing Authority in Rossville.

Dave Langlois, Greenhouse Megastore's manager of special products, said the high tunnel greenhouse is one of the company's new products. The steel-framed structure, which is covered with a polyethylene film, is affordable and quick and easy to install, yet durable in all kinds of weather.

"Growers can get ahead of the market or continue to grow and sell when the season would be over," he said.

Normally, the company tests new products at its site at 70 Eastgate Drive, Langlois said. But when company President David George heard about the sustainability farm at a local Rotary meeting and wanted to help out, officials decided to install it there.

"Our aim is to be a community partner," said Langlois, who assembled the structure with the help of Krabbe, other instructors and a dozen or so DACC and College Express students on Wednesday.

"Local gardeners say we're the best kept secret in town. ... (But) we want everyone to know about us," he continued, adding the company hopes to partner with Master Gardener clubs and local food source programs on other greenhouse projects.

Langlois said he was thrilled to see students helping out with the construction.

"Potentially, that's a workforce we could draw from in the future," he said.

As Langlois and a small group of students measured where to put the anchors and assembled the arched frames, Krabbe and Wheeler talked about their plans for the new greenhouse and their class, where students learned to make spinach pasta, spaghetti sauce and stuffed peppers; can and freeze vegetables; and dry herbs, among other things.

"In the winter, we'll be able to plant hearty varieties of winter greens. In the summer, we'll be able to grow tomatoes quicker and start eating them quicker," Krabbe said.

"I'll have tons of spinach just for you," she told Wheeler.

Krabbe also wants to move the beehives closer to the greenhouse, where students can observe them more closely, but not get stung.

Nearby, Kelsey Vines, a landscape design and horticulture student from Hoopeston, and David Warren, a golf course management and horticulture student from Bismarck, said they were grateful for the donation — and opportunity to help build it.

"It's just going to boost the (horticulture) program by getting to be out in the field as early as possible," said Vines, who has been gardening nearly all of her 22 years. "While I'm more into landscape design, all of this will give me great experience and hopefully, propel me further."

Sections (2):News, Local