The YME greenhouse: "best kept secret" at Yellow Medicine East

You would never guess it's a greenhouse from the outside. In fact, some people think it's just an add-on to the Yellow Medicine East (YME) storage garage in Minnesota. "It's probably the best-kept secret at Yellow Medicine East," said Ben Lecy, the industrial arts teacher at YME.

The YME greenhouse in Granite Falls was built by the school's construction and trades class four years ago, after receiving a $100,000 grant from the Bush Foundation and a roughly $20,000 donation from Fagen Inc. Lecy said that he's biased, "but it's probably the most unique thing we have. There aren't many of these anywhere in the world. When we were building this, there were two other facilities like this in the United States. In both of those facilities, you weren't allowed. They were research facilities," he said. 

It almost has to be this way because consider the little amount of sunlight and warm weather during Minnesota's school year. Lecy said that a double glaze or hoop house style is at the mercy of nature. Lecy said that this greenhouse is built from extreme panels, it has concrete floors with high-carbon mats on the inside and in-floor heating. "The space has an R-value of 24 on the walls and I believe it's 42 in the ceiling. So it gives us 30s in R-value overall," he said.

The higher the R-value, the higher the insulation effectiveness. Each chamber has spectrum LED lighting at various photosynthetic active radiation levels. This is what the plants use for photosynthesis in this sunless setting. Each room has a mini-split which helps to regulate the humidity and the temperature. The space also has a lighting system that replicates sunlight. They can even program the lighting system so it replicates clouds floating overhead.

This greenhouse has three chambers that can be closed off and climate-controlled. The first chamber feels the coolest of the three and has equipment for hydroponic and aquaponic projects. This is also where the class frog hangs out. The next chamber is accommodated for succulent growing, a student's favorite. "It doesn't have to be all tomatoes and peppers and broccoli and cabbage, which are still my favorites, but let's try to grow some different things," said Lecy. He said that the student were amazed when they learned how simple it is to properly propagate succulents. "And pretty soon that became the rage. And so now we have a few 1,000 of them in the other room that we'll have next year, we do a sale each year."

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