Dennis Brosseau has a green thumb.
Good thing, because in addition to being a beloved third grade teacher, he runs the Green Growers Club at Ravinia School in Highland Park.
Working with a group of third, fourth and fifth graders, and with the generous support of the Ravinia PTO, Brosseau and his Green Growers are supplying Northbrook’s Prairie Grass Café with a few dozen heads of hydroponically grown green butter lettuce on a weekly basis. And Prairie Grass chefs George Bumbaris and Sarah Stegner are more than impressed.
“Supporting this in-school project is foundational in what we hope to achieve at PGC. Our country’s future is dependent on the health and education of our children,” Stegner says. “I strongly believe that having a food curriculum in school is paramount. The kids get to see where food comes from beginning to end and each step of the way… and [that] ultimately educates them in making smarter food choices.”
Working in three teams during the week, the kids start the lettuce from peat pellets, monitor for nutrients with pH testing, and oversee the growing process with help from Brosseau. The grow lights are on for 16 hours during the day to simulate optimal growing conditions in the greenhouse, especially during the cold winter months.
And what a greenhouse it is! Built in 2000 after a fundraising drive by parents and staff, it’s like stepping into summer, with sunlight streaming in and the wonderful, earthy smell of fresh plants all around. Now-retired teacher Paul Grant was the impetus for the program.
Grant “started growing basil hydroponically in his classroom many years ago, and I apprenticed with a table in my classroom, too…when he retired, I took over and lettuce became our main cash crop, along with the annual Third Grade Plant Sale in June,” Brosseau says. The third grade germinates and plants coxcombs and zinnias for the sale, along with tomato plants and basil pots.
One chilly March day, I got a personal tour from Brosseau and club members Brandi Bombicino, Janie Levitan and Caroline McDougall. Their enthusiasm for the project is inspiring. It takes nine weeks for the heads of lettuce to go from seed to maturity, and the greenhouse is filled with greens in various stages of growth. They harvest every Friday afternoon, and by 5 p.m., it’s on the menu at Prairie Grass, where it sells out quickly. You can’t get much fresher than that.
The members of the Green Growers Club might disagree. As they walk out the door toward their carpools, they each tote a bag with a head of the prized lettuce, munching a salad’s worth on their way. Now that’s fresh.
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