May 26, 2020
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Greenhouse project promotes self-sufficiency

BROOKSVILLE, Maine — A grass-roots project seeks to promote self-reliance and self-sufficiency by making low-cost greenhouses available to interested individuals and institutions.

The Greenhouse Project, sponsored by the United Methodist Church of South Brooksville through The Reversing Falls Sanctuary, already has built several small greenhouses in the area — including one at the Brooksville Elementary School, which has been growing vegetables throughout the winter months.

The hope of founders Tom Adamo of Penobscot and Tony Ferrara of Brooksville is to encourage more people to grow their own food.

“The goal is to produce a greater percentage of our food locally,” Ferrara told a group of people during an informational meeting Saturday. “Active greenhouses help us to become more food-secure.”

The idea, Ferrara said, is related to the Transition Movement, which holds that, in the face of a time of peak oil, climate change and economic crisis, it is up to local communities to become more self-reliant. That means communities should develop ways to meet local needs including food, energy, transportation, neighbor care and health.

The project was jump-started by a $5,000 grant from the Community Health Alliance that allowed them to negotiate a discounted price for the materials which include framing lumber and triple-wall, polycarbonate sheets plus fittings. The sheets are lightweight, stronger than glass, and nontoxic, Adamo said, and they are rela-tively easy to install.

A 6-by-12-foot attached greenhouse would cost about $400 to build. A freestanding model requires additional materials and could run between $2,500 and $3,500.

Adamo and Ferrara installed a small, attached greenhouse at Ferrarra’s home and, with a crew of about 15 volunteers, built a free-standing model at the Brooksville Elementary School where students have been growing greens all year.

“The beds are producing to beat the band,” Adamo said. “[The students are] eating lettuce, spinach, chard.”

The two basic designs include growing beds that are heated from below through a piping system that pumps warm air from the upper levels of the greenhouse through perforated PVC pipe set between layers of crushed stone below the soil.

“The soil temperature [in the school greenhouse] has not gone below 45 degrees all winter long,” he said.

The project, Adamo said, already has built several greenhouses and has several more scheduled to be built this summer. The plan is to gather interested people or institutions, conduct a site evaluation and make recommendations on a design and develop a basic cost estimate.

With the continued discount, the project will do a group order for materials that will be delivered locally. Homeowners then can build their own greenhouse, or the project will provide volunteers.

“Everyone we’ve talked to is growing more than they can eat,” Adamo said. “We’re asking people to share their vegetables with neighbors or the food pantry, and, if we have volunteers to help you build your greenhouse, we’d like you to volunteer to build someone else’s.”

The project plans to place an order for materials in March, with delivery set for sometime in May or early June.

Adamo said the project is self-perpetuating.

“As we resell the materials to you, that’s refunding the grant, so we can do this again and again, until everybody has a greenhouse,” he said.

The project has applied for another grant that would allow them to donate materials to area institutions and to hire underemployed or unemployed carpenters to work on the greenhouses.

About 40 people attended the informational session Saturday; a dozen or more said they were interested in building a greenhouse and signed up for a site evaluation. Anyone interested in more information may contact Adamo at 326-8868.

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