Simplified: Harrisburg High School will add a greenhouse, hydroponics, and other farming and agriculture technology thanks to a federal grant. Here's a look at what it'll mean for students (and the workforce).

Why it matters

  • The $250,000 Career and Technical Education Innovation Equipment grant will allow Harrisburg High School the funds needed to construct a greenhouse, purchase two FarmBot precision agriculture machines, and get the equipment needed for hydroponics.
  • As part of the grant, the district is also partnering with a number of local organizations – from higher education to landscaping – in an effort to show students how to take what they're learning and turn it into a career, said Mike Amolins, director of instruction and federal programs for the Harrisburg School District.
  • The initial idea stemmed from a conversation between science teacher Andrew Koch and Harrisburg senior Heidi Pan, who pitched the idea of starting a community garden to Koch after taking his Advanced Placement environmental science class. That evolved into a much broader effort to bring students hands-on agriculture and sustainability experience.
"As a student being able to actually see the type of experiments Mr. Koch mentioned (in class) in person would be very beneficial toward learning – on top of just being able to provide more green space and more opportunities for students," Pan said.

Tell me more about the goals of the grant

Amolins identified four key goals:

  1. Giving students opportunities to learn about sustainable gardening and agriculture in both a professional and personal context.
  2. Workforce development – i.e. giving kids a pathway to careers in agriculture, horticulture, landscaping, sustainable gardening and more.
  3. Teaching students to be self-sustaining. Students will learn – with the help of FarmBots, tech that help kids practice precision agriculture – how to grow a variety of produce. That produce will then be used to provide ingredients for Harrisburg's culinary arts program or sold in farmers markets.
  4. Showing the mental health benefits of gardening and getting outside. Students will also be learning landscaping to help create outdoor learning spaces. They'll also study nutrition and wellness to help inform the types of produce they're growing.
"In general our district has embraced this idea of 'what if,' and we're really just trying to think outside of the box in how we fit these programs together," Amolins said.

For Koch, the grant will allow him to take what he's teaching the students in theory and show them in practice.

"We can test experiments," he said. "We'll be able to actually apply that (classroom) content."

Who are the folks partnering with Harrisburg?

There are several, including Augustana University, Sanford Health, Southeast Technical College.

"It is crucial to our industry to expose students to landscape and horticulture at the high school level. ... Until now, there has been a huge void in bringing this education to students in the Sioux Falls area," said Cole Weller with Weller Brothers Landscaping.

What happens next?

The Harrisburg School District is finalizing design plans in the hopes of beginning construction this spring or summer, Amolins said.

The hope is to have the facility ready for student use this fall.