New greenhouse expands horticulture-based business program at RHS

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

RIPLEY – A new greenhouse on the campus of Ripley High School is nearing completion, allowing the school’s entrepreneurship program to expand in the fall.
Quess Hood, teacher and director of the project, said the new 30-foot-by-40-foot structure quadrupled the capacity the students previously had to grow plants and learn the basics of business operations.
“They’re learning simple horticulture, what it takes to keep plants growing, but business is at the heart of it,” he said.
About 30 students participate in the program, and each must work in all aspects of the business to reap its benefits, not only in skills, but also in other tangible rewards.
Hood started the program in 2005, and in that first year the program earned $2,500 from plant sales.
“We sold hanging baskets and used the proceeds to buy supplies for the classroom and pay for field trips and other student trips,” Hood said.
When Hood came to the school in 2004, he noticed a small, overgrown structure – a greenhouse that had been purchased with grant funds some years in the past but was going unused.
Before entering the field of education, Hood worked in landscaping for more than a dozen years and he saw a tremendous opportunity to introduce his tutorial students to new learning opportunities. They generally begin working with the program as freshmen and continue through their senior year.
“They learn business math, customer service and other important skills to operate a successful enterprise,” Hood said. “As long as it does well they will benefit from it.”
Kenneth Thomas, a senior, said one thing the program has taught him is how to work cooperatively with other students.
“It’s fun getting outside and getting things done with nobody fussing,” Thomas said.
The new greenhouse structure – built of polycarbonate double-walled panels over a durable metal frame – greatly expands the program’s growing area. Wide metal planting benches and tables will line the walls, with area on the ground beneath and sturdy hanging frames overhead to grow greenery and flowering plants, as well as the vegetables Hood plans to add in the fall.
“We’re probably going to build some raised beds for the vegetables, and we’ll have something to sell in the fall for fall color,” he said.
The approximately $30,000 structure was purchased with funds the South Tippah School District received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and construction labor was a joint project.
“Student James Dees used this as his Eagle Scout project,” Hood said. Dees assembled the workers to build the foundation and assemble the rafters, and a contractor was hired to install the panels and install the wiring.
The entire project has taken about two years, so both students and teacher look forward to getting to work.
“We’re excited,” Hood said. “The students learn that this operation is like the real world, you get out of it what you put into it.”
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com