The Jay County Schools hosted the 2015 Master Farmer award banquet in fine fashion. One advantage of doing so was getting to show off their vo-ag teaching facilities. The one facility everyone who saw it left talking about was the greenhouse, constructed about seven years ago, but getting an upgrade in technology this year that is truly state-of-the-art.
"I can be anywhere in the world, pull it up and see what the cameras are seeing in the greenhouse, " says Brittany Bridges, one of the four ag teachers at Jay County High School. "If I see something that appears to be wilting, I can direct the system to water that section, all form a remote location."
While Bridges teaches horticulture, Seth Swallow is responsible for helping upgrade the technology to this level.
The greenhouse also has room for hundreds of hanging baskets. "We can hang 200 on a row," she explains. "The baskets are watered automatically when they need water."
Until this year, the school greenhouse did not sell plants to the public. "Our community is very supportive, and in the past, we didn't want to compete with other community members who were selling plants," she explains. "All of them have closed now. The only other place to get plants is the large department store in town.
"Our goal is to sell plants cheaper than people can buy them there. We don't make money – we just try to recoup costs. We figure that the community benefits, and the goal is to teach our students about different techniques related to growing plants. It is not a fundraiser for us."
The greenhouse is home to everything from tomato plants to strawberry plants to small blueberry bushes. Long rows of tables are actually designed to hold water to help supply the needs of the plants.
After the tour, someone told Jay Akridge, Dean of the College of Agriculture at Purdue University, co-sponsor of the Master Farmer event, "They've got more technology in this greenhouse than in the greenhouses at Purdue!"
Akridge had to nod in agreement. However, the distinction may be short-lived. Purdue is in the process of building state-of-the-art facilities to pursue plant research and development in a new center at the Purdue Agronomy Research Center.