By YES! Alumnus Aaron Larson
The Willmar Community Greenhouse project was started in 2007 by the Willmar Senior High School YES! team, a team I joined in 2008 as a senior in high school. The project’s main goal is to educate the community about renewable energy and locally-grown food. These goals are continually accomplished, as we are growing produce inside and outside the greenhouse year round, even during the middle of winter.
I enjoy gardening, and it is amazing being able to garden during January in Minnesota. The produce from the greenhouse is harvested and served at the Willmar Senior High School lunchroom, donated to the local food shelf, and sold at local farmers markets. During the winter, the greenhouse is heated by utilizing renewable energy sources such as solar panels and a biomass boiler that burns wood pellets made from recycled saw dust. The main source of heat is actually from the sun simply shining through the glass panels that make up the building. It’s a great escape from the winter when the temperature outside is -10 and you’re able to step into an 80 degree greenhouse.
Another great aspect of the greenhouse project has been all the support it has received from the community. Local businesses have donated many things to the greenhouse, including solar panels by the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar, the biomass boiler by Aqua-Therm of New London, and building materials by Perkins Lumber of Willmar. Also, it could not have been done without the many groups and individuals who have volunteered countless hours of their time and labor for the greenhouse.
After high school I have continued to be involved with YES! and the greenhouse project. The YES! team planted the seed and the greenhouse continues to grow. Today I manage the greenhouse as part of a new project with the Willmar Becker Market to market and sell fresh local produce year-round to local businesses.
It’s been a fun project to be involved with, from giving tours of the greenhouse to elementary classes to providing fresh salad greens for school lunches. I am very glad and thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of YES! and continue to grow at the greenhouse.