BY KATHY CHANG
EDISON — The opening of the learning greenhouse at John P. Stevens High School is only the beginning of bigger and better things to come.
“Our [motto] is “Go big or go home”,” said Meredith Quick, assistant principal at J.P. Stevens.
Quick along with Principal Gail Pawlikowski, faculty, members of the Board of Education, students and the various groups involved in supporting the greenhouse came together to celebrate the grand opening on June 8.
“One of our goals is to grow our own organic produce and sell it at a discounted rate,” said Quick, who said without everybody’s support and fundraising efforts, the greenhouse would not have been possible.
The produce growing right now includes eggplant, beans, ground cherries, pumpkin, cucumber, plum and red tomatoes, bell peppers, basil, strawberries and more.
High school students with disabilities will work in the greenhouse during the summer with student interns from Rutgers University’s Horticultural Therapy Program and will sell produce at the farmers market set up outside the school.
The excess goods will be given to the local food pantry.
Teacher Marissa Freeman said the 21 students in Project Pieces, or Providing Instruction and Experience in Community and Everyday Studies, are excited to embark on working in the greenhouse, learning gardening skills as well as learning how to weigh, measure and sell the produce this summer.
“This is an extended school year program and we will be watering and maintaining the greenhouse,” said Freeman.
The students enrolled in Project Pieces are students from the ages of 14 to 21 who have multiple disabilities.
The students in the program gave out reusable bags at the grand opening. They custom printed the bags with “Come Grow With Us” and included their own recipe for tomato basil pasta and a homemade cookie.
A group of faculty members came up with the idea for the project in 2014. They sought to improve the school as a whole while providing a way to help students with disabilities develop new skills, Quick has said.
“Our goal is for all students to learn the true meaning of living green and be able to utilize these life skills learned for years to come,” she said.
Faculty and students at J.P. Stevens set a $50,000 fundraising goal for the greenhouse.
The school applied for a number of grants and received a $20,000 grant from Sustainable Jersey, funded by the PSEG foundation, which was the highest amount and most competitive grant.
The greenhouse will open up new avenues for teaching certain courses. Among the classes that will benefit from the greenhouse are biology, environmental science and culinary arts.
The science courses will use food waste from the cafeteria and turn it into soil through the use of wigwams, according to Quick. The culinary arts program will cook with the food grown in the greenhouse. Baked goods and soups will be sold along with produce at the JPS Farm Stand, located outside the school, Quick said.
The various groups involved in making the greenhouse a reality include Edison Wetlands Association and Triple C Farms, Edison Greenways Group, Edison Open Space Advisory Committee, Clara Barton Neighborhood Preservation Committee, Rutgers University Horticultural Therapy program, Kean University Horticultural program, Middlesex County Cooperative Extension, Middlesex County 4-H, Edison Township, Edison Township Work Based Learning Program, Shop Rite Program, the YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge and South Amboy, Future Business Leaders of America, Environmental Awareness Club, Culinary Arts Program, Science National Honor Society, National Honor Society and National Art Honor Society.