Community partners help build traveling greenhouse

Juneau Douglas High School junior Malik Jones works on a wooden frame that will be part of a mobile greenhouse project. (Photo by Kevin Reagan / KTOO)
Juneau Douglas High School junior Malik Jones works on a wooden frame that will be part of a mobile greenhouse project. (Photo by Kevin Reagan / KTOO)

A greenhouse on wheels is in the works to teach Southeast Alaska students how to be less dependent on imported food.

Multiple community partners are pitching in to get the project up and rolling by the summer.

Lia Heifetz grew up in Southeast Alaska and has always been interested in food. When she returned home after graduating from the University of Oregon, she says she noticed a lack of food security in the region.

A blueprint of the mobile greenhouse project developed by Lia Heifetz. University of Alaska Southeast student Kaden Phillips designed the structure. (Photo by Kevin Reagan / KTOO)
A blueprint of the mobile greenhouse project being developed by the Southeast Conference. University of Alaska Southeast student Kaden Phillips designed the structure. (Photo courtesy of Lia Heifetz)

“There is little access that people have to local, fresh foods,” says Heifetz, the Southeast Conference’s food security coordinator.

In a 2014 assessment of the Southeast food supply, Heifetz found that about 95 percent of it is imported. She says there is a high demand for locally grown food, but lack of education in rural communities on how to grow and cultivate it.

Heifetz developed a project to construct a greenhouse on wheels to tour throughout the region. The mobile gardening center will be housed by rural schools for one year at a time.

“This mobile greenhouse is a tool to get people thinking about growing food but also a way to engage,” Heifetz says.

Heifetz says the greenhouse will be a multi-faceted classroom for educators to teach science, math and business. She says the intention is to demonstrate how to be less dependent on imported food.

“By producing our own food we have the opportunity to connect with our place more,” Heifetz says. “We’re depending on a system that’s super vulnerable.”

Heifetz says some of the factors that lead to food insecurity in Southeast include high transportation costs and weather hazards.

The mobile greenhouse is expected to be complete by May, and Heifetz says it could not be done without help from community partners.

Juneau Douglas High School teacher Andy Bullick brings students to the UAS Technical Education Center a few times a week to work on the mobile greenhouse. (Photo by Kevin Reagan / KTOO)
Juneau Douglas High School teacher Andy Bullick brings students to the UAS Technical Education Center a few times a week to work on the mobile greenhouse. (Photo by Kevin Reagan / KTOO)

Juneau Douglas High School students are volunteering their labor for the project. Wood shop teacher Andy Bullick says it offers his students a chance to practice hands-on skills outside the classroom.

“People will see a greenhouse; I see it as a learning experience for my metals construction class,” Bullick says.

Bullick brings a handful of students to the University of Alaska Southeast Technical Education Center to build pieces of the project a few times a week. The greenhouse will sit upon a flatbed trailer and include adjustable shelves to hold potted plants.

“It’s good to do community projects in school like this so we’re always looking for ways to do that,” Bullick says.

Alana Peterson is the program director of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, an organization sponsoring the greenhouse. The partnership typically works on projects that promote economic growth. Peterson says this project is different from others she oversees because of its strong educational component.

“What is unique about it is that it’s not specific to one community but it could benefit many communities,” Peterson says.

The culinary students of Thunder Mountain High School are scheduled to take in the greenhouse first. After that, it will likely journey to Kake or Hoonah.

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