Involving Children In A Greenhouse Transformation At Lake Forest Country Day School!

We recently reached out to Lake Forest Country Day School to get an update on their current sustainability projects. They filled us in on how they combined Design-Thinking, creativity, and curriculum to transform their existing greenhouse into an aquaponics garden. Below are some details on how the greenhouse project initially started and was taken to the next level, and how LFCDS involved their students and community in the process! 

In 1976 George and Hat Bermingham donated funds to build a greenhouse at LFCDS in memory of their son Robbie, a longtime LFCDS student who passed away from Multiple Sclerosis between his eighth and ninth grade years. The initial construction was done by Robbie’s classmates, who dug the foundation and lugged in bricks. Fast forward forty years, and Justin Hone ’14 identified the greenhouse as the ideal spot for his Eagle Scout project – constructing an aquaponics garden in partnership with Growing Healthy People (GHP), a non-profit company dedicated to training veterans for careers in sustainable farming.

Justin, a Lake Forest Academy senior, dedicated 116 hours over the summer of 2016 to this project, which entailed extensive planning and research; building the aquaponics beds, tanks, and water systems; and managing several volunteers throughout each phase of construction. He worked with GHP’s Master Systems Builder Kevin Westing, who raised the fish used in the aquaponics system to ensure that the fish would be raised in a completely organic and humane environment. 

The self-sustaining farm, which grows microgreens (the first leaves of a plant), basil, cucumbers, peppers, and many other vegetables, harnesses the nitrogen produced from fish waste to fertilize and grow the plants and vegetables. Underneath long beds of nutrient-rich pebbles, there are several tanks of tilapia and koi that produce ammonia, which convert to nitrogen, an excellent organic fertilizer for the plants that grow on the pebbled surface. The roots of the plants filter the water, which is pumped back down to the fish below in a true symbiotic relationship.


The new garden is an ideal fit for Lower School teacher Kevin Nicholson’s science curriculum. “The aquaponics greenhouse provides all Lower School students with the opportunity to learn about the requirements of plant growth and how food can be produced locally,” said Mr. Nicholson. “The students learn about the jobs necessary to run the greenhouse, and then make a connection with veterans through the Growing Healthy People organization. It successfully combines Design Thinking and responsible citizenship, part of our School’s mission, to solve problems creatively.”

Shoots and microgreens grow very quickly, so Mr. Nicholson’s students were able to bring their crops of sunflower and pea shoots home just a week after planting. “What I liked most was the planting part,” said LFCDS student Sophie Uddin. “Digging in the soil and putting the seed in, and then seeing how the seed changes into food in only one week.”

63a8d3b33030dbf157433cfcd40d4928-huge-dsThird-grade students held a Farmers Market late last October. The young farmers transformed the Early Childhood Center (ECC) into a market, and the senior kindergarten classes were invited to come and shop for healthy greens. In the days leading up to the market, the senior kindergarten students studied how scientists organize and classify the diversity of plants in our world as well as nutrition, where and how food is produced, and how it is distributed – at a farmers market, for example. “This is an incredible opportunity for the children to be able to take an active role in the farm-to-table experience,” added Mrs. Cheryl Besenjak, Executive Director of GHP.

“Each student brought home a small container of what he or she purchased at the farmers market,” said Mr. Nicholson. “The microgreens could be picked and eaten or the children could continue to grow the plant at home with their families to see how it changed over time.” The Farmers Market was so successful, the faculty plan to make it an annual event.

The new Greenhouse is a vivid example of LFCDS’ commitment to both inspired teaching and responsible citizenship, and the School’s capacity to produce curious, passionate learners who, like the microgreens, will continue to grow for years to come.
Posted by Scarlet Current on Oct 16, 2017 10:58 AM America/Chicago


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