New Greenhouse to Teach and Feed Urban Students

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Classrooms and urban farms are becoming one, as the city recently broke ground on a new South Side greenhouse on an abandoned lot.

When finished next year, the 3,200-square-foot greenhouse at 433 Prairie Ave. will provide food for student meals at two nearby elementary schools. It also will incubate a garden-based curriculum, with lessons on local food systems, composting and waste reduction.

“It’s great for the schools and the community,” said Susan Follett Lusi, superintendent of Providence's public schools, during the Aug. 19 groundbreaking.

The project is the latest effort from the Office of Sustainability's Lots of Hope program. Last year, the program converted two derelict lots in low-income neighborhoods into urban farms. Both are managed by neighborhood groups — Southside Community Land Trust and the African Alliance of Rhode Island. Lots of Hope also established Providence COMPOSTS!, a neighborhood residential composting pilot program at three drop-off sites.

The new greenhouse will offer an extended growing season for urban farmers in the neighborhood. The city says the greenhouse will foster micro-businesses, improve air quality and increase local property values. Farmers will pay a low-cost lease to use the greenhouse.

Local farmer Melvin Carter attended the groundbreaking. The retired Navy veteran manages the flourishing urban farm at nearby Potter Park. “This is one way to bring the city back,” he said.

The school district recently mandated that 15 percent of food purchases be locally sourced through its food service provider Sodexo. Produce from the greenhouse will be served at the Mary Fogarty Elementary School and the Robert Bailey Elementary School.

“This is going to be a learning laboratory for our schools,” said Mayor Angel Taveras, a former Fogarty School student.

Growing in the greenhouse is expected to start in 2015. Funding for the $110,000 project was raised through a matching grant from the Rhode Island Foundation and Florida-based Partners for Places.