The Ottumwa Courier

October 21, 2013

THE Greenhouse Project ready for construction

Courier staff writer

---- — FAIRFIELD — After a process that has been much longer than anticipated, there is finally a greenhouse being constructed in Fairfield.

THE Greenhouse Project, a nonprofit project aimed at providing the Fairfield community with fresh produce, broke ground Monday at its location on West Stone Street. According to local food coordinator Jan Swinton, she had hoped the project would get moving in June, but a funding issue has postponed the start.

Now that the proper funds are in order, work is set to begin on the construction of the greenhouse and the heating units, which are what make the project so unique.

The greenhouse will use waste heat from Shaus-Vorhies Manufacturing, which will be exchanged via underground tanks and piping that will be put in place after the greenhouse is constructed.

The heating system will use underground air movement and water tanks that are placed 15 feet below the surface, and the air will come up through chimney-like structures in the greenhouse. Then an automated system fancied with thermostats will measure the heat and humidity levels of the greenhouse, and if their levels get too high or low, Swinton will get an alert on her smartphone.

The data from the thermostats will be gathered and documented every 10 minutes and will be put on the greenhouse’s website so anyone can see how it is working. The research data will hopefully show how you can grow produce more efficiently with certain heat levels.

“The engineering data can really change the way you grow your food,” Swinton said. “It shows you what to do.”

As a partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, THE Greenhouse Project will also provide fresh produce to the Fairfield Community School District, which is in a partnership with four other schools that could also benefit from the food at the greenhouse.

Although there will be unavoidable complications with the timing of the readiness of the produce, the added positives that will come from the greenhouse for the schools will be great, Swinton says. Fairfield schools have even agreed to do the preparatory work for the produce, which means they will do all of the washing and refrigeration.

“That has been a blessing,” Swinton said. “The first year will be challenging … everyone is trying to be flexible.”

Now that the groundbreaking has been done, getting the greenhouse constructed is the next big goal. Any volunteer is welcome to help, since there is a lot of work to be done. Swinton encourages those who are bringing a group to call her at 641-751-9061. Workers who are overseeing the project will be there every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to help direct volunteers.

Once the greenhouse is completely constructed, the first plants will get in the soil and hopefully be growing by the time Christmas rolls around. Swinton would love to use January as a grow month and then harvest all of winter produce sometime in February or March.

For the first winter phase, they will stick with traditional salad bar items to see how the soil and heat work exactly. Swinton expects they will be a little less green than they would ultimately like to have since there is less sunlight during the winter months, but they will be “just fine.”

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