Owensboro Catholic High School’s FFA chapter did not have a functioning greenhouse for years.
But on Thursday, the school held a blessing ceremony for its new $100,000 state-of-the-art greenhouse, which will be fully operational when students return to school in the fall.
Erica Tapp, the Catholic College’s only agriculture teacher, said the 18-by-36-foot greenhouse was smaller than the previous, less stable, hoop-shaped greenhouse, which had fallen into disrepair when she became an agriculture teacher two years ago.
Not only is this greenhouse built to last, however, it also includes an automatic sprinkler system and a three-stage heating and cooling system that creates the ideal growing environment.
“This is top notch, super chic,” said Tapp. “It’s much more advanced than the last one.”
Tapp has been on a fundraiser since arriving at the school.
Their cause got rolling in February 2021 when Owensboro Grain donated $3,000 to the project.
From there, Tapp said, more private donors came forward, along with two $15,000 grants from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board. Another grant from Independence Bank is to be paid over several years to keep the greenhouse running with materials.
During the ceremony, Charlie Kamuf, who was also one of the main donors, revealed the name of the greenhouse – Mimi’s Secret Garden.
Kamuf said his grandchildren called his wife Linda “Mimi”. She is an avid gardener herself.
“The FFA at the Catholic College has been phenomenal at what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished with the little things that they have,” said Kamuf, an Owensboro attorney who used to be a co-owner of Big Independent Tobacco Warehouse. “We were happy to do that because the old one was in need of repair.”
Gates Settle, principal at the Catholic High School, said the greenhouse is a necessary addition to the farming program and he is grateful to everyone who has contributed, both financially and with their time, to make it a reality.
“When we get something like that, we really appreciate it,” Settle said. “It’s just going to give our students such an opportunity that they haven’t had. It’s just another educational experience that we can offer at the Catholic College.”
There are currently 64 students — a city-county mix — enrolled in the FFA chapter of the Catholic College.
The Catholic University’s AG program began in 2001 under Susan Zoglmann. In 2004, the school established its FFA chapter, with Zoglmann becoming its first counselor until her retirement in 2014.
Zoglmann said the original greenhouse was similar to those placed in retail store parking lots and had no utilities attached to it.
“We had to carry 5-gallon buckets of water out here,” Zoglmann said. “We had no water; We didn’t have electricity but we had fun.”
Seniors Sara Green, FFA President, and Avery Waller, FFA Secretary, said they would have liked more time with the new greenhouse but were glad it bore fruit before they graduated.
“Although I’ll only be using it for a short time, I’m excited for future students that we actually have a greenhouse here at Catholic,” Green said.
Waller said they started moving plants they grew in the classroom to the greenhouse.
“Hopefully we’ll make trips here during class times and after school — just to keep an eye on things,” Waller said. “And Erica was really great at getting the ball rolling – she really pushed and is our number one advocate.”
Tapp said the presence of the greenhouse should help increase FFA numbers.
“It will completely change our Ag program,” said Tapp. “Right now I’m using an old lab at school for my gardening to try to grow my plants. So this will be a place where we can get a lot of hands-on learning in plant science.”
Another benefit will be the ability to host flower and plant sales that serve as a fundraiser for the FFA program.
“We’re definitely going to be selling plants in the spring and we’ll see how things go with the mothers in the fall,” she said. “We have really good FFA support in our county, so (sales) are going really well.”
Tapp said they will be growing vegetable appetizers, herbs, flowers and “splashing around” with mixed planter baskets.
“Some of this stuff will be new for me to develop and some of it will be stuff I’m familiar with,” Tapp said. “But my plan is to use it all year round.”
Don Wilkins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7299