GUERNSEY—One of the best lessons in life is learning the satisfaction in doing something for yourself and enjoying the rewards. It’s a lesson Guernsey-Sunrise Food Service Coordinator Dawndrea Daly hopes to teach by getting staff and students involved in the on-site growing of some of the fresh food items offered in the school’s lunchroom every day.
It sounds great but Wyoming’s fickle weather patterns are a formidable opponent to making it a reality. So to utilize Mother Nature’s more accommodating features in the process, Daly secured a $2,500 grant this past January to build a geodesic dome greenhouse that will make it a hands-on project throughout the school year.
Provided by the Wyoming Specialty Crop Program through the Wyoming Department of Education, the grant paid for the majority of the cost to build the dome, one of just four in the state.
The dome went up just behind the school last Thursday and Friday and should be ready for use by the time school starts in mid-August.
With a limited budget, the build was completed through the combination of paid and volunteer help. Jeff Edwards, educator from the University of Wyoming Sustained Ag Research Extension Center lab in Lingle, volunteered as the foreman on the project. Coleman Griffith, an independent contractor from Lander who has been involved in a number of similar builds around the state, was also on hand, as well as Ted Craig, grants manager of the Wyoming Specialty Crop division of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.
Daly also secured a few volunteers to pitch in on the project. Melany Brandt, Maitthias Beers and Daly, all from Guernsey, helped out. Allen Wilde from Torrington's Master Gardener program made the trip as did Leroy Jons and Mary Evans, both from the Platte County Extension office in Wheatland.
The dome is a self-supporting structure made from materials strong enough to stand up to the rigors of Wyoming weather, including the pervasive winds that frequently come through. The walls consist of a special plastic film that will allow the sun to warm the inside of the dome, providing the heat required for plant growth. The frame is built from a composite made from recycled plastic and wheat stratw that is manufactured in Torrington, Wyoming.
The plant beds will be made using horse tanks filled with dirt and designed with a drainage system. Hydration will be provided by the school's water system through a direct line near the dome.
A wide variety of plants can be grown in the dome throughout the year. Daly is hoping to begin with items that can be used on the school's salad bar. Tomatoes and a variety of herbs should make good beginning items and as with any new project, they will likely discover what grows well at a given time of the year.
Embracing the mantra that hunger and learning do not make good partners, Daly has consistently sought to give the school’s staff and students good nutritional choices in a variety of ways.
Since taking the Food Service Coordinator's position in 2016, Daly has successfully picked up grants to provide fresh fruit for both the elementary and high school; acquired a new salad bar through the Chef Ann Foundation and has now added the dome greenhouse.
Along the way, she has also made great professional strides to do the job well and been recognized for her efforts.
In 2017, she was one of four Wyoming food service employees selected by the Wyoming Department of Education to attend the Produce University in Anaheim, California. She was also selected as the top Wyoming State Food Service Coordinator for the 2017-2018 school year.
But despite the accolades, Dawndrea is really just all about the kids and making sure they all eat well at school. "We don't always know if they're eating right at home so I want to make sure they do at school."
Last September, Daly brought in one of the first specialty food programs for the upper elementary students. King Arthur Flour sent a representative to put on a baking program that gave kids a live, first-hand lesson in making dough and baking pastries. Each student was given a kit to take home so they could do their own baking with an adult at home. They were given enough ingredients to bake several items and were asked to bring one back to school to donate to others in the community. Highly successful and well-received by the kids, Daly will have King Arthur return this year for another session.
With great support from programs such as the county extension services, Daly seeks out every opportunity to improve and provide the best food program possible.
While the grant covered a good deal of the cost of the geodome, the project will still need some items to be ready for its first growing season when school begins. With tight educational budgets these days, the community has an opportunity to help a very worthwhile program. The biggest needs are the horse tanks to be used for planting and small gardening hand tools the kids can use. Other items will likely make the list as the project progresses. Contact Daly at the school to find out more about the project and ways you might help.
Daly sees the geodome as more than just a greenhouse. "I want this to be a classroom for our teachers and students, where our kids can learn all about growing their own food. It would be so great to see them be able to make the connection between growing something and then eating it in the lunchroom."
And that's a lesson well worth learning.