What’s 60 feet long, 30 feet wide and packed with plenty of ripe, climbing, red tomatoes, blooming geraniums, budding lantana and a variety of other growing things — all of which were propagated from existing plants?
It’s the greenhouse on the campus of Lovington High School, where teacher Montana Hagler and 133 students, plus Lovington schools’ director of maintenance, Bill Lewis, are working every school day and some weekends to discover the techniques best suited to grow plants in both traditional soils and hydroponically.
“This is a community project. It’s a place for kids to come and have the unique opportunity to start plants from a cutting and then watch them grow to maturity.
“It started online, while the schools were closed, but this fall, we got the kids out here and the course has been a great success,” superintendent of schools LeAnne Gandy told the crowd at the first open house, celebrating the greenhouse and the horticulture classes available to students at LHS last week. “Our teacher, Montana Hagler is awesome and Bill Lewis is giving his help when it’s needed. And we’re hoping to expand the program with another greenhouse and start offering horticulture 1, 2, 3, and 4.”
Gandy told the News-Sun having a greenhouse and horticulture classes at the high school had been a long time dream of hers, “and then (Lea County Commissioner) Dean Jackson came in an asked what he could do with some of the discretionary funds he had as commissioner, and I told him about the greenhouse. He contributed $100,000, the school district contributed $75,000 and money came in from available grant funds.”
Lewis said LMS employees did much of the construction work for the greenhouse, saving the school district a considerable sum of money, and also assuring the structure was what was needed for the course to be taught.
“We’re hoping to roll out greenhouse number two this summer so we can teach horticulture one, two and three next year,” Lewis said. “My degree from Oklahoma State is in horticulture and my wife, Beth, is landscape designer, so this program is dear to our hearts. We owned a wholesale nursery here in Lovington for several years, but fate sent us to the school district. I’ve been with the district 27 years and I am so happy to see this program and be part of it.
“Mrs. Hagler has a heart for teaching and she wonderful with the students. Her college major was agriculture and mine was horticulture, so we make a team.”
Together, Hagler and Lewis are working toward developing their knowledge of hydroponic growing practices.
“Hydroponics was still brand new when I was in college,” Lewis said. “But we are learning something new every day.”
Hagler, in her second year of teaching, earned her Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture from Eastern New Mexico University. She grew up in Belen, where she participated in Future Farmers of America even though she didn’t live on a farm.
“I raised and showed rabbits at the county fair. I raised rabbits because the space I and my family had for a project was limited. I loved FFA and all the activities. My original plan was to join the Peace Corps and travel the world teaching agriculture,” said Hagler. “I took the education courses I needed to get a teaching certificate. And then, I got married. After graduation, my husband wanted to come to Loving-ton for a job and just as we got here, this program opened up.
“This is absolutely my dream job. I love teaching. It’s allowed me to learn more every day.”
This summer, Hagler will spend about 100 days in school learning more about food crops and growing them in places where space is limited.
Jackson was at the open house and was delighted with what he contributed to the program.
“Commissioners get discretionary funds,” he said. “And when Mrs. Gandy told me about the greenhouse, I wanted to contribute to it. It think it opens up so many possibilities for kids. It’s hands-on, so they get to see the results of their work.”
Jackson said his discretionary fund was $100,000 when he made the contribution and now “it’s been upped to $200,000. Giving to projects in the community is way to give back to the community. It’s the taxpayers’ money and it ought to go back to them.
Plans for sales of plants and produce are in the works, but limitations of time and space mean those sales will have to be announced.
“As plants mature, we’ll have to make room for new plants,” Lewis said. “And then we’ll have a sale and invite buyers to come.”
“We would love for people to see what we’re doing here,” Hagler said.