Students turn to crowdsourcing for new greenhouse

By The Associated Press

MISHAWAKA — Behind a nondescript classroom door, close to the scientific scales and specimens, students were peeking into the small, glass-roofed room where seeds were sprouting.

"What's going on in here?" they'd say in the second-floor greenhouse at Mishawaka High School. "That's really cool."

Jake Crawford had to turn them away. Space was tight. The school's Landscape & Garden Club members were already bumping into each other. Starter plants were stacked close to each other, destined for the city parks where Crawford is landscape manager.

The students would eventually take 14 flats of zinnias out of here and plant them at Beutter, Central and Crawford parks. They'd plant the tropical philodendron in the Battell Park rock gardens (it would later come out before the cold hit).

Isaiah Moragne, now a junior, took some of the veggies home to plant and eat when the spring semester ended. He was eager to practice what he was learning, a fan of his grandma's green thumb who would lamented, "I didn't know how to help her."

The after-school club had outgrown its space, two years after Crawford had launched the parks/school partnership at his alma mater. Now he and the students are running a crowdsourcing campaign to buy a much bigger greenhouse — with potential room for 200 flats of plants — that would stand near the Battell Community Center.

The group is seeking $23,000 from the public by Dec. 14 through a fundraising page at . If it succeeds, it would draw a matching grant from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

It is spurred, in part, by the city parks department's success in crowdsourcing through the same site, raising more than $43,000, then landing $35,000 from IHCDA, for a fitness court that went up in June at Central Park.

The greenhouse would be assembled from a kit next year on what is now a grassy patch, next to parking that is across Broadway Street from the Battell Center.

The club had used the school greenhouse only from January to spring since students leave for the summer. With heat and walls formed from a double layer of rigid plastic, the new greenhouse could operate year round. At 1,200 square feet, it would have about 12 times the amount of space, Crawford said.

"It could easily accommodate a class, not just trying to squeeze people in," he said. With room outside to plant in an area that's now grassy, he added, "We can engage the community."

The greenhouse could be used for more than just club projects, he said. Local master gardeners could help with educational programs for the public. In the summer, he's already worked with two special-needs youths and hired four club members, including Isaiah, as summer help.

The club itself has grown from six to nine last year to about 16 this year. Aside from the earthly lessons, Isaiah said he joined to "break out and meet members of the community." He made a pitch to the Mishawaka Lions Club. Other club members are helping with marketing the campaign, including a video.

Isaiah planted flowers by the walkway at his family's house this year, saying, "Things are pretty."

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