Never Stop Learning: Never Stop Growing!


October 5, 2019 |

Colby Elementary School students work on their hydroponics project, providing healthy green vegetables for their cafeteria.

Never stop learning, Never stop “GROWING”. That is part of Colby Elementary’s sustainability philosophy. It’s how we have been doing business for the past 10 years. Colby Elementary started their journey with an AmeriCorp volunteer from 2009-2011. We followed that part of our journey with a district partnership with CESA 10 and Melissa Reichert. With the district behind us and Melissa leading, we embarked on a comprehensive sustainability adventure. Our electricity usage was evaluated, recycling and garbage protocols were studied, sustainability classes were offered on-site, an outdoor classroom with garden was designed and built for the elementary students use, and a district wide sustainability team was developed. Due to these efforts our District was able to purchase a District event sign in 2017.

During the fall of 2013 with encouragement and guidance from Melissa, Colby Elementary completed the State Green and Healthy Schools application. We were awarded this honor the following spring. In the spring of 2014 we received the National Green Ribbon School award. A team of three staff members traveled to Washington D.C. to accept this award. We were the only school from Wisconsin that received this honor because of our grassroots approach.

Our commitment continued status quo until the spring of 2018, when Colby School District hosted the state symposium for Green Ribbon Schools. Gil Shaw from Fork Farms in Appleton, Wisconsin was present with a hydroponic grow tower. We realized this was exactly what we were looking for. A Fork Farm system was added to the America’s Farmers Grow Rural

Education $10,000 grant application. We were awarded the grant, and a Fork Farm was ordered and delivered. We were ready to “Grow” lettuce by the beginning of 2019. After our first harvest we were very pleased and excited for our students and district. With the rate of childhood obesity rising and more and more fresh produce being contaminated, we saw the Fork Farm system as a viable opportunity.

Additional systems would provide the district with nutritionally dense greens while reducing our dependence on out-of-state produce as well as decreasing the districts’ carbon footprint. The decision was made to secure additional funding for two Fork Farms. A letter was co-authored by Brenda Medenwaldt, elementary principal, Jennifer Peterson, reading interventionist, and Jean Rosemeyer, second grade teacher and district wellness coordinator. The letter was hand-delivered to five local businesses and our district FFA Alumni chapter. Nicolet Bank made a $3500.00 donation, Colby FFA Alumni donated $1000.00, and Loos Machine Shop and Taylor Credit Union also made donations. The remaining monies were taken from the America’s Rural Farmers Grow Rural Education grant, Whole Kids grant, and the district’s food services department. One of the Fork Farm systems was highlighted at Nicolet Bank from July 2019 through September 2019. They saw three harvests and celebrated with a “Lettuce Celebrate” salad bar days.

With the three systems on site (aptly named “Hydro Hive Farms”), it is our goal to continue to grow fresh greens for the district every two weeks while providing our students with a hands on hydroponic growing experience.

We would like to thank our community businesses and organizations for their encouragement and financial support. TOGETHER WE WILL “GROW” A STRONGER HEALTHIER COMMUNITY.

We want to think Jean Rosemeyer for submitting this excellent schools sustainability report and teacher perspective. The Rural Schools Collaborative is committed to giving voice to rural teachers through our 'I am a Rural Teacher" campaign, and we also highlight school community sustainability efforts that are supported through local philanthropy.

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