The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Bonnie Davidson
The Courier 

Hinsdale School Teaching Conservation...With Honors


Bonnie Davidson / The Courier

Patty Armbrister explains the different plants located in the Hinsdale School greenhouse. The greenhouse and garden were built from grant and community contributions, with students and community members volunteering time and effort to put it together. The school is being recognized for the conservation efforts.

It's been a three year effort that has grown and started to turn heads around the state. The efforts of Hinsdale Ag Teacher Patty Armbrister and Hinsdale students have created something special, a possible model for other schools and teachers to follow.

This spring the school was awarded for the second year the EcoStar Award, which was recognized in September during the celebration of Pollution Prevention Week. Montana State University gives commercial enterprises and nonprofit organizations statewide recognition for their effort each year. This year 24 groups were recognized, including Hinsdale School.

Jenny Grossenbacher, the MSU Extension housing and environmental health coordinator, explained that the governor honors the groups each year awarded. While Armbrister didn't attend the award ceremony this year, she did the year prior. The award doesn't give anything in funding, it just gives recognition to those who are making an impact.

"It's not a competitive award given, it's honoring leadership efforts both big and small," Grossenbacher said.

She explained that Armbrister has been leading the way in Hinsdale. She said that she's exposed kids to local foods, teamwork and conservation that makes an impact. She said that it's a program that they are looking into replicating for other schools. Grossenbacher said that their work on building a greenhouse that grows food, creating mulching and compost for the plants they grow and setting up a drip line system and tanks that hold rain water saves over an estimated 4,000 gallons of water.

"It's about reducing waste, water and energy conservation and local food," Grossenbacher said.

The EcoStar Awards have been presented for 15 years now. Armbrister said that she came to the school for work in 2008 and she looked to build a greenhouse. She said that they weren't able to approve the project because of the cost that it would create for water and energy. She said she started to do research and found several ideas. She had students help her create a design of their own and started applying for grant money.

The project funding came 100 percent from grants and community efforts. The Hinsdale FFA, the ag students and community members constructed a special green house positioned to utilize the sun to keep the heat up. The greenhouse went up and has been used as a classroom for all grades. Students are now growing food that keeps growing for a majority of the year.

"It's a passive greenhouse, there are no solar panels, the winter sun heats it," Armbrister said.

She explained that black barrels hold water that heats up as well and a six inch insulated wall on the opposite side keeps the greenhouse operating. A solar fan was also installed to help vent the hot air and a fan kicks on when it goes above 85 degrees. The solar heater kicks on when the temperature goes below 80 degrees. She explained that the solar heater only worked when the sun was out.

Nothing is plugged in, and no water is used from the school. Two giant black rain barrels collect 375 gallons of water, each. That water is used with a drip line system that keeps water running. The water is set on a timer that runs on a battery, this also conserves water. Paper is used in the compost and students are learning about plants.

Armbrister explained that they focus on native plants as well. The food that is produced has been going to the cafeteria. They've utilized cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, garlic, kale, onions, carrots, broccoli and more.

Talking to Armbrister you can sense the passion she has not only for conservation, but teaching future generations about it. She explained that statistics show the future generations having a shorter lifespan and kids and parents both need to learn about local growth and eating healthy foods. She spends time teaching them about natural foods.

She has also had several students build a bee hive for local bees. Bees that don't collect honey but pollenate. Something that is a world wide concern as bees are dying and populations are being reduced. It seems like a lot of work from one person but she said she's been met with a lot of community support.

"In order to make a life change and make things better and to empower others you have to teach them," Armbrister said. "I'm a very sustainable and out of the box thinker."

There isn't storage for food yet, so the next goal is to build a root cellar for food storage. She's written several grants that may help her and the students reach that goal. She said she's started teaching other teachers and adults the techniques and theories that has gone into all the work that has been done. She's spoken to several school cooks as well to help. She has a few more trainings coming up and is hoping to do one in Hinsdale to show others what they've done.

She's made it a goal to get the other teachers involved and create several lesson plans utilizing the garden and greenhouse. Recently there was a math project with the flowers. Teachers have also used the garden for science projects and history on native plants.


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