By David Rice, Coach of Minnesota New Country School YES! Team
This is the first year Minnesota New Country School (MNCS) has participated in the YES! program. MNCS has competed in the MTEEA Supermileage Vehicle competition for many years. We also have operated what we called the “Green Team” to tackle school recycling challenges. In general, we have been helping students develop projects that address climate change and alternative energy within our project-based curriculum. Many of our students are passionate about developing green projects and enjoyed the YES! workshops on supermileage car competition, solar energy/climate change, and solar gardens/ethanol production.
Our challenge this year was to introduce students at MNCS to the goals of the YES! program. While MNCS has been maintaining an apple orchard since 1998, this year we took one week to focus experiential learning toward local foods. Our week-long experience for twenty-five students was called: Say “YES” to local foods. We toured two local CSAs and helped harvest fall crops in return for donated produce. We toured the St. Peter Co-op and River Rock Coffee Shop. We learned about the carbon saving benefits of eating locally grown food. We also spent an afternoon in the gardens at the Center for Earth Spirituality at Good Counsel Hill in Mankato. After harvesting apples, making cider, extracting honey, and grinding wheat, we put on a community local foods luncheon and invited vendors to sell their goods at our school. Our YES! efforts plugged MNCS students into the local foods community. We hope to do it again next year.
Our Supermileage Team has entered two vehicles every year for the past 15 years. Our routine is to scrap one car, completely redesign a new car, and then rebuild the second. The only difference this year is that we are modifying the second car’s carburetor and moving from a stock entry into a modified category. Our team is busy working up the new design and welding the frame in preparation for the May 10th and 11th competition at Brainerd International Raceway.
What’s new at MNCS is an aquaponics system in our greenhouse. Shane Parker has been the driving student behind this project. Our goal is to combine tilapia, lettuce, and solar energy into a sustainable system that will produce lunch and instruct students on the benefits of producing sustainable food with a minimal carbon footprint. We have been running the pumps without fish or lettuce and are just now getting ready to hook up a solar electric system. The project has brought staff and students together with different talents and interests. Student Luke Kline has been the solar expert, advisor Jim Wartman is our fish expert, and student Shawn Bagley’s greenhouse skills keeps the lettuce growing. The YES! program has kept the team motivated to reach our goal of growing our own lunch by the end of the year.