By Nicole Kleinert
Winter is hitting the Chicagoland area earlier than ever and although our weather apps read 20 degrees and snowing, Dominican’s greenhouse it is perpetually 65 degrees, the current temperature in San Diego, California.
The greenhouse, located behind Lewis Hall, provides a small space for students and faculty to grow plants. The space, which smells strongly of dirt and blooming mums, not only serves as a community area for gardening but also as a therapeutic walk through greens, away from the deep freeze of wintertime.
While the greenhouse is a bubble of life on campus, its purpose is larger than simply growing flowers. A hydroponics system sits snugly in the corner of the room, humming while giving plants life through a water powered system that substitutes for soil.
Liz Glen, a sophomore majoring in environmental science, said: “The hydroponics system works by replacing soil, which takes plants more effort to pull nutrients from, and also maintains its pH balance.” Glenn currently oversees and experiments with growing microgreens such as arugula and Russian kale in the hydroponic system. She comes in weekly to clean the equipment, check the plants and maintain the environment.
Glen said: “I try to work at least a few hours weekly but I have a heavy course load so sometimes all I can spare are a couple minutes every week in between classes. Thankfully, the growing space is temporarily sustainable and the beds are fertile for produce.”
Elena Maans, Dominican’s sustainability coordinator and overseer of the greenhouse, hopes that the hydroponics system will be a model of growing healthy food in an urban area. Maans said, “We can grow herbs and microgreens with this system which means flavor and nutrients can be grown at a faster rate and in a smaller space.”
While Glenn works on the hydroponics system in the greenhouse, there are other human components that are just as important. The garden space is also used by members of Trinity Volunteers, adults with developmental disabilities who work alongside facilitators to water, plant and grow their own plants. Senior Lauren Kaspryzk regularly elps her partner Derrick in the greenhouse. “The greenhouse, for Trinity’s purposes, is to ensure that adults with disabilities in the community have a project to work on that is meaningful, challenging and fun.” Kasprzyk said. “We have helped grow plants, clean up the greenhouse along with the back room of the greenhouse, water plants and maintain its appearance.”
The adult volunteers, who have both mental and physical disabilities, and their student associates work on projects that involves social skills, visual learning and hands-on work to give living organisms a new home. Their work ranges from turning the soil to planting and watering the flowers.