Growing Pains of the Greenhouse
Warm, humid air is one of the hallmarks of a traditional greenhouse; the word “greenhouse” calls to mind the climate of a tropical jungle. However, a rush of cold air coming from the floor greets visitors to Packer’s greenhouse, marking only one of the ways this greenhouse is different than most. Although it is a large step forward for Packer in sustainability and environmental awareness, the new greenhouse has faced a number of setbacks, this among them, in its implementation.
The chill, caused by the lack of insulation, is also the main reason that planting in the greenhouse is now almost at a standstill as winter approaches.
“There is a wooden floor, and in between the panels of wood there are cracks where cold air can come through,” said Earth Club co-leader Becca Horwitz (‘18), essentially rendering the airtight walls and ceiling of the greenhouse pointless.
Working alongside Tené Howard, director of Global Outreach, Service and Sustainability, Earth Club is in charge of the upkeep and organization of the greenhouse. They do not yet have the insulation that they need to fix this issue, and are postponing planting until they are able to insulate and warm the greenhouse.
The original concept for the greenhouse was introduced about two years ago, and announcements were often made claiming it would be built soon, which “never happened,” said Georgia Bank (’18). Every time an announcement was made about the greenhouse, the Chapel would fill with laughter. Construction did not begin until late last year. For a long time, the greenhouse was seen as no more than a joke.
When it finally began to be assembled, there was a lot of enthusiasm in the Upper School. A large group of environmentally aware students helped build and set up the greenhouse, and Earth Club was very popular.
“The greenhouse seemed like a really good way for Packer to help out, because we would be able to grow organic foods. We would be able to teach younger kids about the importance of plants and recycling at a young age,” said Yasemin Cag (’19), one of the students who helped build the greenhouse.
The educational factor of the greenhouse is one of the main reasons the plans were approved by Head of School Bruce Dennis and the Parent Association. “When teaching about Earth science in the abstract, it’s not nearly as meaningful as when one can start to see some of those things realized in actual time. You can talk about cycles of plant life until you’re blue in the face, but it’s nice to be able to observe it and to see what that looks like. For me, it became almost like an extension of a laboratory,” said Dr. Dennis.
“It is supposed to be a symbol of Packer’s environmental efforts, as well as a teaching tool for other classes,” said Gabi Hubner (’17), another Earth Club leader.
“We want all of the divisions of Packer to be able to come in and learn about plant life, and sustainability, and issues regarding global warming and climate change. It’s also a symbol of Packer’s sustainability,” said Becca.
Although they do want the Lower School to be able to use the greenhouse, Earth Club has had some issues.
“We’ve had a little bit of trouble with the Lower Schoolers. There’s been issues of them going into the greenhouse without permission,” said Ray George (’19), a leader of Earth Club.
“The Lower School students were really excited to go into the greenhouse, and went in with the thought that they were allowed to,” said Joseph McCauley, the assistant head of the Lower School. The students in question brought in their own seeds and soil and began planting, but they were asked to leave and to not plant without getting permission.
However, Earth Club has straightened out this misconception and is now setting up a system of greenhouse-related education and scheduling for the Lower School.
While the greenhouse definitely provides an important symbol of sustainability in our community, it is not, perhaps, living up to its full potential.
“I think we could do a better job making it more accessible to more people,” said Yasemin.