BROCKWAY — Brockway Area Junior-Senior High School has a robust ag program, complete with a barn, orchard, greenhouse, and high tunnel. Recently, that last piece of equipment got a facelift.
The high tunnel acts similarly to a greenhouse, only it is not heated. It protects plants and extends the growing season. The one at Brockway had some torn materials, a broken zipper, and regular woodland creatures as visitors.
“We had deer, rabbits, groundhogs – pretty much any animal you don’t want in your garden,” Brockway ag teacher Kyle Norman said. “One year, a deer got in and kicked out panels in the back.”
Clearly, the high tunnel needed repairs. Norman got a quote for materials and work and put that into an application for the Lowe’s Toolbox For Education Grant. This grant gives money to schools around the United States. In its twelfth year, the Grant boasts that it has provided $54 million to 12,000 schools. Brockway is now on that list.
Once the money and materials came in, Norman had to get to work on prepping the site for the work. His students went into the old tunnel and ripped out all the old plant matter and debris. Then, the torn materials needed to come down. The school district maintenance crew stepped in and got the ball rolling.
“John Basl and Tim Hicks were a huge help in getting the project going,” Norman said. “They took lead and we helped out.”
The front part of the high tunnel is a polycarbonate section with a door. The other end is softer, made of plastic. In between, the old high tunnel had one layer of plastic on top, which provided some protection for the plants. The remodeled tunnel has two layers of plastic with a blower system circulating air between the layers of plastic.
“Hopefully, that air flow will make it frost-proof,” Norman said.
The next step was to work on the roll-up sides, which allow ventilation in and out of the tunnel. Brockway’s high tunnel is now a shiny new 20-by-40-foot growing season extension.
Norman and his ag classes hope to grow enough produce to give to the family and consumer science classes to use in cooking lessons. He also hopes to sell some at the annual farmers’ market.
First, however, Norman needs to test the new tunnel out.
“Now, I’m planning on planting a small patch of a cold-weather crop, like lettuce, to see how far this high tunnel will extend the growing season,” Norman said. “This spring, we’ll plant tomatoes, beans, corn, cucumbers, zucchini, and kale. Maybe we’ll try peanuts!”