Above, from left, Neighborhood Land Trust executiveTamika Butler, Principal Luis Montoya and Facilities chief Mark Hovatter join community members in ceremonially opening the state-of-the-art greenhouse at Fremont High School.
Capping a project that began in 2012, L.A. Unified officials joined this week with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust in celebrating the completion of the District’s first-of-its-kind greenhouse at Fremont High School.
The 1,600-square-foot-greenhouse and adjacent garden are part of an effort to provide Fremont students and the school community with educational programming and broader access to healthy food. They complement the health-related services provided by the school-based wellness center, which broke ground on the campus more than five years ago and is now operated by the University Muslim Medical Association.
“The wellness center treats people after they’re sick, but we also wanted to help them change their lifestyle so they won’t get sick as often,” said Chief Facilities Executive Mark Hovatter. “The garden and the greenhouse allow us to complete this vision.”
The greenhouse was custom designed to meet the rigorous requirements that allow it to serve as an outdoor classroom, Hovatter said. It provides an optimal growing environment with features that include automated fans and heaters, computerized vents and even mechanized blinds that open and close, depending on the brightness of the sun.
“This is really a living, ‘smart’ building that monitors itself,” Hovatter said.
The greenhouse serves six periods of credit-approved agriculture classes offered through the District’s Regional Occupational Program. Students learn about soil science, composting and fertilization, propagation and production techniques that allow them to grow seedlings that can be transplanted to the garden, where they flourish until the harvest.
Principal Luis Montoya said the agriculture program is growing in popularity as students literally reap the fruits of their labor.
“This is really engaging students, and they have taken ownership of the garden,” Montoya said, who is in his first year at Fremont. “Everybody wants to go there and work. They really take pride in it.”
Wanting to expand access to healthy food beyond the boundaries of the Fremont campus, the District has partnered with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust. The nonprofit organization holds a farmer’s market each weekend, and then distributes the surplus to community members during a weekly giveaway at the school. Fremont has started contributing some of their students’ harvest to the giveaway, so parents are benefiting from the fruits and vegetables grown by their kids.
Montoya has ambitious plans for the agriculture program. He wants to start raising chickens – the kids are already building the coops – and to eventually have a large enough garden to support a farmer’s market at the school. He also is investigating whether medicinal herbs could be added to the crops to support the Linked Learning pathway that is embedded in the school’s Academy of Medical & Health Sciences.
“I want to create a lot of opportunities for our students at Fremont,” he said. “I want to make their learning purposeful.”