Greenhouse Program

Few issues universally affect our planet’s population more than food. The VMS Greenhouse was built to provide a year-round classroom where students can get their hands dirty, engage all of their senses, and grow food that they can eat. Simultaneously, it is also a place to learn about nutrition, science, ethics, and the geopolitics behind food production. All students in grades K-12 have the opportunity to work and learn in our Greenhouse under the guidance of a full-time greenhouse coordinator, Gabe Scherzer, who by the way, is also our AP Environmental Science teacher.

Lower School Classes

Lower school students visit the greenhouse once per six-day rotation. Their focus is on soil, plant biology, and nutrition with age-appropriate projects tailored to each grade within these three areas. For example, where Kindergarten uses a very hands-on approach to learning about rocks as the building blocks of soil, fifth graders take a more scientific angle and perform a laboratory style deconstruction of different soil types to learn about composition and how many different elements come together to make healthy soil. Each lower school grade also plants and harvests edible plants such as radishes, carrots, or lettuce. A nutritional component of the class provides opportunities for students to try new foods (often ones they grow) and discuss the effects that different foods have on their bodies, i.e. do they make you go, grow, or glow.

Middle School Electives

In middle school, Greenhouse classes are offered as semester-long electives. “The Edible Schoolyard” takes a detailed look at how food gets from farm to table and how we can manipulate sun, soil, air, water, or the plant itself to affect quality and quantity of yield. The class examines a variety of ways that food is produced (e.g. conventional, organic, free-range, companion planting, crop rotation, GMO technology etc.) comparing and contrasting the virtues, costs, benefits, and limitations of each. The second elective, “The Future of Food,” is focused on the cutting edge of agricultural technology. Students in this elective are responsible for setting up and maintaining the Greenhouse’s aeroponics and aquaponics systems. They also learn about the physics of ground-air heat transfer, passive solar heating and other growing technologies. Throughout the semester, students in both electives also have opportunities to learn how to cook simple dishes using ingredients grown in the Greenhouse. Some examples include tropical-superfood smoothies with kale, caprese salad made with our own basil, and breakfast burritos flavored with cilantro from the herb garden. 

Upper School Internship

Our eldest students have the opportunity to engage in a quarter-long, greenhouse internship that combines a high level of academic engagement with hands-on/hands-in-the-dirt activities. This group acts as stewards of the greenhouse and each student must volunteer 45 minutes each week assisting the greenhouse coordinator with upkeep, experiments, and research, or working with younger students through cross-age activities with greenhouse classes. A significant component of the Greenhouse Internship is independent work and students are responsible for periodically reading about and reflecting on a variety of topics related to the science and ethics of agriculture.

About the Greenhouse

The Greenhouse was built from the ground up to be a state-of-the-art, year-round, indoor growing space and classroom. It houses six raised beds, an aeroponics tower garden, and an aquaponics system that uses living fish, their waste, and recirculating water to create a self-fertilizing growing platform. The 1200 sq. ft. structure is attached to the main school building and includes a ground-air heat transfer system that uses the temperature stability of the earth as a thermal battery to assist with both heating and cooling. This component was inspired, in part, by a student’s Senior Project that looked at ways to build sustainable, year-round, greenhouses in the Rocky Mountains.

In addition to being a home for greenhouse-specific classes, the space is also used by several science classes across the divisions when they are learning about topics such as photosynthesis, biodiversity, and plant science. The Greenhouse has also been used recently by the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens to grow seedlings of endangered Penstemon that they hope to reintroduce into the wild during summer.

Current Plantings

  • radishes
  • tomatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • kale
  • lima beans
  • carrots
  • beets
  • lettuce
  • cucumbers
  • cilantro
  • basil
  • dill
  • sage
  • sugar snap peas
  • broccoli