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PTK Works to Diminish Food Insecurities on Campus

August, 2017
  • PTK Live & Learn Greenhouse
  • PTK Live & Learn Greenhouse
  • PTK Live & Learn Greenhouse rendering

It may take a village to raise a child, but at the Live & Learn Greenhouse it has taken a group of dedicated QCC students and Phi Theta Kappa members– both current and former, QCC staff and faculty, as well as the Worcester community to make it a reality.

Earlier this month excited PTK students began moving containers of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, spinach, kale, basil, parsley and lavender to the greenhouse. Later this fall the plants will move inside of the four-season greenhouse to offer year round food to the QCC community.

According to PTK Advisor Bonnie Coleman, the concept of the Live & Learn Greenhouse began five years ago as idea of then QCC student and PTK member Mary Bailey who recognized that many students on campus had food insecurities. The Live & Learn Greenhouse was born from her vision in order to provide access to free healthy food for those in the QCC community, in addition to offering an interactive experience for students, faculty, staff and children.

“Sadly, Mary passed away in January of 2017 and never saw all of this come to fruition,” Ms. Coleman said. “However, she was truly a leader and without her insight this never would have happened.”

Today, the greenhouse project is being led by a group of students just as steadfast in their dedication to bring the greenhouse to life as Ms. Bailey was.

PTK member and Student Advisor Samuel “Sam” Nessenthaler has been involved in the project since he was a QCC student and is now continuing on in an advisory role while also attending Wentworth Institute of Technology this fall.

PTK member and QCC student Joshua Averett took it over from Mary and then Sam came in and took it to the next level when Josh went on to Amherst College,” Ms. Coleman said, noting the students hit many obstacles in working to make the greenhouse a reality.  “However, ‘NO’ was not an option for these students,” she added.

Former QCC student and PTK member John Wheeler (now a student at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell) worked with Mr. Avery to develop CAD drawings of the greenhouse. From there, Mr. Nessenthaler helped take those drawings to reality.

“We are working to figure out how to use the greenhouse to our benefit and go places that were not even imagined,” Mr. Nessenthaler said. “This is not just a box with plastic on it.”

A breakout automation team is designing a system that will be housed on a server to enable anyone to view the greenhouse at any time. Day-to-day plant maintenance will all be automated as well. A group working with QCC’s early childhood program and the Children’s School are working on a plant-a-seed program.

The student-led groups have been making sure no aspect of the project gets forgotten. PTK member and QCC student Dathiel Blake oversees breakout teams that include:

  • Botany –  Team lead Sangyun “Brandon” Won, Christine Sherman and Ivan Mischenko
  • Hydroponics/ Irrigation – Team lead Dathiel Blake
  • Automation – Team lead Brendan Russell, James Nguyen and Thomas Rokicki
  • Grant Writing – Team lead Kyle Mondino
  • Data Collection Specialist – Thomas Rokicki
  • Pre-K – Team lead Kayla Patterson/ Kim May, and  Leah Boutelle

Ms. Coleman and the students are quick to add that without the unwavering support of Director of Facilities Operations Jim Racki and his team, this project would not have been possible.

Michael ‘Mike’ Perro who did the electrical, James ‘Jimmy’ Dussault who did the HVAC, and Marc Ventura who did the plumbing, have spent countless hours to get this up and running,” Ms. Coleman said.

In addition, former PTK President and QCC student Dave Runyan, now QCC’s Microsoft Systems Administrator, has been working with Betty Lauer, Coordinator of the Computer Systems Engineering Technology Program and her team to get the server for the greenhouse up and running.

Local community members have also had a hand in making the greenhouse come to life. Former QCC student and PTK member Ethan O’Connell grew succulents and donated them to the greenhouse; the West Boylston Recycling center has given numerous donations; Carl Danielson of Danielson Flowers has helped with donations and horticultural knowledge, and Colonial Glass and Mirror did all the glass work.

While there is currently no way to calculate exactly how many people the greenhouse will be able to feed, the hope is to feed at least 10 families initially and continue to grow (no pun intended) that number.

“We’ll be working with open source technology and working with algorithms to capture data and we will use that information to create models that will give us accurate data on how many we can feed, with the ability to scale it smaller or bigger,” Mr. Nessenthaler said.

PTK is still looking for members to join any of its greenhouse breakout teams. Currently they are in particular need of a team lead for the public relations group.  Donations are also still being accepted.

“This has truly been a monumental effort. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to the school and to PTK,” Ms. Coleman added.

Anyone who is interested in making a donation, becoming involved or has a question, can contact PTK or Ms. Coleman in Room 349A.