Tucked behind the FFA building and auditorium, Marietta FFA’s new greenhouse isn’t clearly visible from Highway 77, yet the new program it houses is now one semester old – and looking forward to more. The district’s new horticulture program just wrapped up its first semester and has bigger plans for the spring.

Expenditures for the greenhouse were approved by the board of education in the fall of 2021 and the facility was completed in the spring of 2022. Constructed of polycarbonate material, the greenhouse is 30 by 48 feet with 10-foot side walls, built on a concrete slab, and includes an evaporative cooling system, automated shade cloth, and a gas heater. It also has a programmable fertilization and water system set up in zones.

As outdoor classrooms go, the greenhouse may be a little out of the ordinary for our area, but FFA Advisor Josh Bazor believes that the program already has and will continue to be a huge benefit to students.

The goal of Marietta’s ag program is to teach students life skills – those that can be packed up and carried with them after they leave high school and used with success in the job market. The new horticulture program fits right into that goal.

“I felt like we were missing some really good kids who could benefit from the FFA program but do not like to work in the shop,” he said. “My advanced classes were ag mechanics, which we do very well in, but eliminated kids who didn’t want to weld or fabricate.

“The greenhouse gives our program diversity. Not every kid wants to work with livestock or in the shop, but that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from ag classes, and this gives us the opportunity to reach so many more kids.”

When the school year began in August 2022, the new horticulture program began with it, diversifying ag classes available to students. Members in the class have so far learned proper techniques for starting plants, daily care, fertilization, transplanting, and pest control in a greenhouse environment.

While some students are interested in learning to grow vegetables for their own consumption, others are more interested in ornamental plantings. The horticulture class provides room for both interests to flourish – no pun intended.

Of possible interest to the community, another part of the long-range plan is to host plant sales, allowing the public to purchase the fruits – or, in this case, maybe vegetables – of their labor. Interested parties should be on the lookout for further information about sales.

To that end, Bazor and his students have ordered plants and beginning in mid-January, are expecting approximately 2,800 plants to be delivered in the span of roughly five weeks.

“We will go from there, transplanting things,” he said. “The plants come in plugs, which you transplant into four-packs, and from there you can transplant them again into hanging baskets and pots. We’re hoping to turn those plants into a greenhouse full of things we can sell to the community.”

According to Bazor, the process is unnerving. Showing animals, metal fabrication, and proficiency projects are all familiar, comfortable things, but there is quite a bit of a learning curve involved in turning almost-3,000 tiny plugs into a greenhouse full of thriving plants.

“We’ve never done any of this before, so we’re learning as we go,” Bazor stated. “We’re learning everything from names of plants to what things should be planted together. It’s been a process for sure, but it’s neat and different, and the kids and I are enjoying it. We’re already seeing some things we need to do differently next year to streamline the process, and I’m hoping that we learn a little about running a business, too.”

But the best part, says Bazor is that the kids are investing themselves in it and enjoying what they’re learning.

“We’ve done rose cuttings, coleus and Jew, airplane plants and succulents, and they love it,” Bazor explained. “We’re reaching a whole different set of kids who may not want to go to the shop and weld, but they’re super-excited to get into the greenhouse.”

Included in the “next year” plan is a floriculture class that will be taught by Ms. Kamesh, Marietta’s newest addition to the FFA program.

“Ms. Kamesh has experience with floriculture, so she will take the next step and piggy-back that program with the horticulture,” said Bazor. “She will teach kids to work with the ornamentals and create arrangements, wreaths, and things like that. We will grow the plants, and she will take the next step and make something pretty with them.”

Bazor and Kamesch recently asked their students to respond to an interest survey, and responses indicated the need for more varied classes in the greenhouse, something both of them are willing to provide in the interest of building an already thriving program and further growing their goal of producing students with a skill set that can contribute to adult success.