- Cama-i, quyana tailuci!
- (Central Yup’ik)
- "Greetings, thank you for coming!"
The Alaska Gateway School District (AGSD) serves over 400 students in seven communities. In the remote community of Tok, the Tok School serves 200 of those K-12 students. In addition to its football field, hockey rink, and softball diamonds, Tok School has something special – the Gateway Greenhouse.
Before talking about the greenhouse, it is important to learn about the Tok School Biomass Project. In October 2010, the district installed a wood biomass-fired heating boiler system in Tok School. In 2012, they added a low-speed electric steam turbine to create a combined heat and power system. A few years later, an old Skinner steam engine was added to produce more power. Fueled exclusively by wood chips, the school obtains its fuel by coordinating with the Division of Forestry and the local community to harvest firewood. In a high-risk wildfire area, clearing areas is an important way to mitigate risk. The biomass system provides 75% of the electricity needed to power the school, and a surplus of heat. The extra heat is used to heat the school’s indoor hockey rink and the Gateway Greenhouse.
The Gateway Greenhouse operates year-round and supplies produce to all seven schools in AGSD. The district has a processing facility to prepare and wrap food for school meals. Even now, in October, the greenhouse is producing 120-150 heads of lettuce per week! Each school in AGSD is equipped with a fresh, locally grown salad bar. Any excess produce is sold to the community. Community members can keep an eye on the Gateway Greenhouse Facebook page for produce sales!
In addition to supplying the district’s food service program with fresh produce, the greenhouse is also integrated into district programs and curriculum. Students from around the district take field trips to the greenhouse. The district even holds a week-long greenhouse day camp for elementary students. High school students utilize the fresh produce offerings in their culinary courses. The Gateway Greenhouse hosts an articulated agriculture program with the University of Fairbanks where high school students can take courses and earn dual credit for their participation. Greenhouse education has expanded to hydroponic gardening, and there are plans in place to implement robotic agriculture! Robotic agriculture will bring STEM into the greenhouse, as students will learn how to program robots to identify and pull weeds, take moisture samples, and delivery appropriate amounts of water to their crops.
The COVID-19 risk level around AGSD varies by community. Some schools are still doing in-person education, while some have implemented online instruction. Luckily the 33 by 96-foot greenhouse allows ample space for social distancing and is extremely well ventilated. Mask are worn where social distancing is not possible, but overall students and AGSD staff are fortunate to be able to safely continue work in the greenhouse during the pandemic.
Thank you, AGSD, for bringing creativity, innovation, and sustainability into your schools!