The story of a 42’ Growing Dome Greenhouse Classroom in Asheville, NC
Western North Carolina’s oldest nonprofit
Eliada Homes, the nonprofit whose mission is to “helping children succeed,” started as a small orphanage in Asheville, NC, and grew into a full-service care facility. Today they are known as Western North Carolina’s oldest nonprofit organization. They host a variety of programs such as residential mental health treatment, foster care, therapeutic foster care, day treatment, workforce development and homeless services, and early learning.
The Beacon on the Hillside
Agriculture has always been a part of Eliada Homes’ long history. In 2017, they took their first step towards bringing farming back to their community by building a 42′ Growing Dome Greenhouse. The Dome provides food for the cafeteria, attracts many new people, and acts as classroom space for the campus farm program. Since then, the Growing Dome has been referred to as the beacon on the hillside.
The 42′ Dome Greenhouse Classroom consists of four main areas:
- An Aquaponics system complete with deep-water culture bed. These beds typically grow lettuce ten months out of the year and heat-loving herbs like basil the other two months.
- A hydroponics system consisting of grow buckets where they grow cucumbers and cherry tomatoes trellising up to the ceiling. That is over 16 ft.
- The center area of their greenhouse has traditional raised beds and smart pots.
- The north-facing side acts as a more traditional classroom space with a small library, weather station, and self-soothing tea-making depot where students can stuff their teabags.
The food from their gardens helps feed over 400 students. In their cafeteria, food grown in the school gardens is labeled as “Grown at Eliada.” The students take pride in seeing their lettuce or cherry tomatoes at the salad bar and are encouraged to make healthier choices for lunch by choosing the food they helped grow.
Campus Farm Program
We had the honor of speaking with Eliada Homes’ Farm Manager Erica Blumenfeld, who is in charge of all things plants, to learn a little bit more about their first-ever year-round greenhouse and how it plays an intricate role in student life.
From the beginning of the conversation, you could tell that Erica was passionate about the work they do at Eliada Homes. She explained that the Growing Dome is part of their campus farm program, and as part of the initiative, students, k-5th get a hands-on learning experience. They spend part of their time in the classroom with her co-teacher, Gene Jensen, where they learn all sorts of fun stuff like where animals get their food. The rest of their time is spent in the gardens, with Erica doing everything from planting to harvesting.
The high school students at Eliada Academy have an opportunity to participate in their new Agriscience course, for which they get high school credit during their stay at Eliada Homes. The course focuses heavily on plant biology in the fall and spring semesters but as soon as summer hits, they begin farm work. Erica explained that while she is no expert in therapeutic horticulture, there is undoubtedly a therapeutic aspect to students getting out of the traditional classroom and putting their hands in the dirt.
“It is really something special to see students make a connection between caring for plants and caring for themselves.”
The future of Farming at Eliada & Advice for Other Dome Greenhouse Classrooms
The Growing Dome was just one step towards a more sustainable food culture at Eliada Homes. In 2020 they added a large hoop house and quarter-acre market garden and have plans to integrate a fruit forest very soon.
Here at Growing Spaces, this is just the kind of project we want to encourage, and so we asked Erica for some advice to share with others who have been inspired to create their own greenhouse classroom or gardening curriculum.
She wants you to know that there is so much curriculum already out there! Check with your state to see if you already have a curriculum or grants available. She also highly recommended looking into The Whole Kids Foundation, as well as asking your local Cooperative Extension Agency for farm-to-school curriculum. They have many good resources for grants and a lot of downloadable classroom curriculum.
Subscribe to our Happy Grower newsletter to see more
You can find all of our Featured Growing Dome’s highlighted in our monthly newsletter “The Happy Grower,” on our social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram), and in our blog. At the end of the year, we create an annual calendar that includes every Dome of the Month. We send them to all Featured Dome participants, along with a gift of Growing Spaces gardening goodies! Apply here.
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