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school spotlight oregon middle hoop greenhouse
Kaci Baush, left, 13, Shianne Trolinger, 14, and J.T. Miller, 15, of Oregon Middle School fill raised beds with dirt at the school's hoop house garden.

OREGON — The locally grown movement has reached Oregon Middle School where vegetables grown over the summer in its new hoop-style greenhouse will be served to students when classes resume.

"We wanted to get some things cranked up so in the fall we can pull off our first salad in the cafeteria," said Nate Mahr, eighth-grade science teacher.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, watermelon and pumpkins have been started. Salad greens will be grown right when students come back and raspberries also will be planted in the fall.

"(We're) trying to have some of the food locally produced," said Darren Hartberg, eighth grade health teacher. "That's what will be happening under this piece of plastic."

The hoop house also will give the middle school more room for what they have been growing to help the Oregon Rotary Club establish native plants at Lerner Park on the west side of the village.

Even more ambitious, the greenhouse next to the school is the first phase of a projected $500,000 EcoCenter initiated by the Oregon Rotary Club, said Larry Mahr, project coordinator. As part of the long term goal, the club wants to build an alternative energy learning center next to the hoop house. It would feature a wind generator and geothermal heat and cooling and the energy would serve the nearby cafeteria and gym in the school. The center would also collect solar energy and house instrumentation for measuring the energy being produced.

The Rotary Club raised $25,000 for the hoop house but with help from the community to build it, some of that money was saved and will go toward the EcoCenter project, said Larry Mahr, who is Nate Mahr's father.

Hartberg, Mahr and educational assistant Cheryl Stout have been the primary staff members involved with the gardening so far, but the greenhouse will be open to any class that wants to use it.

J.T. Miller, 15, who just finished eighth grade, helped improve Lerner Park and build the raised beds for the hoop house. While he is moving on to high school, he said his younger sister will benefit from the greenhouse in middle school.

"We were basically helping the community," he said.

A concrete slab was poured next to the greenhouse and 6-foot high bunkers will be built to create a compost area for waste from the cafeteria. That also will be a great place for students to learn about food breaking down through bacteria, insects and even birds that will eat off the compost, Nate Mahr said.

"The food chain is right here in the compost pile," he said. "There is just so much going on from a biological and chemistry base."

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