The Ottumwa Courier

March 28, 2014

Fairfield greenhouse ready to open

Courier staff writer

---- — FAIRFIELD — After starting construction at the end of October, the official opening day for THE Greenhouse in Fairfield is finally set.

"We're all going to have a really big salad ... and the students will have pea shoots for lunch on Monday," Jan Swinton, local food coordinator and director of the greenhouse, said.

The greenhouse is partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm to School Greenhouse Project, which helped to fund the construction thanks to a generous $16,000 grant.

In the program, the greenhouse will grow food to be used in school lunches. The produce will be taken to the Fairfield Community School District kitchen to be washed and prepared, and then some of the food will be taken to other area schools to provide fresh, locally grown produce to all of the students in the area.

“The [Fairfield] school district has been an incredibly good partner,” Swinton said.

At 3 p.m. Friday, there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony at THE Greenhouse, which sits at 1000 W. Stone Ave. in Fairfield. Then, according to Swinton, tour guides will take groups of guests around the greenhouse, and multiple experts will explain how different aspects of the project work.

“It’s a very interesting system,” Swinton said.

The greenhouse sits on the same site as the Schaus-Vorhies Manufacturing, Inc. plant, and through a unique system of water tanks and air movement, the waste heat from the factory is used to control the temperature of the greenhouse.

“[Schaus-Vorhies Manufacturing] has been relentless in their help,” Swinton said. “They are anxious to make it work and eager to prove this is a system that can work.”

Water tanks and pipes were placed 15 feet below the ground surface, and the excess heat from the plant runs through them and then up through chimney-like structures in the greenhouse. That way the greenhouse can operate year-round, even through the rough winters like the one Iowa has finally escaped.

Thermostats inside the greenhouse collect data that is documented every 10 minutes, and the information can be seen on the greenhouse’s website. Also, Swinton gets an update on her smartphone if the humidity levels inside the facility get too high or low.

The total budget for THE Greenhouse was $67,600. To help fund the project and get the construction completed, Jefferson County Public Health, Alliant Energy, Trans-Canada Pipeline, the Iowa Department of Agriculture Land Stewardship and several members of the community donated money and volunteer hours.

“I have a gazillion of people to thank,” Swinton said. “It’s been a learning experience and a lot of fun.”

— To see reporter Josh Vardaman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh