Mike Powell

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Meet Mike Powell from Housatonic, Massachusetts

Mike Powell is a high school guidance counselor at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He requested $7,000 to purchase hoop houses, a type of greenhouse, for the school’s “Project Sprout,” a student-run project where they grow their own organic food to be served in the school lunchrooms while at the same time, educating students about farming, healthy eating, and sustainability.

In the fall of 2007, freshman Sam Levin, sophomore Natalie Akers, and junior Sarah Steadman had a vision to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for their school’s cafeteria. They recruited Mike to be their advisor and the team came up with a one, two, and five year plan for the garden. In January of 2008, Project Sprout was approved by the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee.

Click the image to visit the Project Sprout blog

Their first season they made a 3,500 square foot garden filled with peas, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, basil, peppers, sunflowers, potatoes, melons, green beans, onions, leeks, parsley, rosemary and corn. They had several hundred volunteers (many of them students) who planted, watered, weeded, and harvested, and they provided produce to the cafeterias of all three district schools. “When we got those salads and mashed potatoes into the lunches last fall,” said Mike, “we took our first step to becoming the first public district in the country whose students grow the food for the lunches.”

The team has recently started tapping maple trees to make syrup, and begun to add nature trails around the student farm. Any teacher in the district can bring a classroom to the farm to study a certain aspect of agriculture or to volunteer to work. They recently put on a Pig Roast that brought together over 300 community members for a day of eating locally grown produce and listening to high school bands play. Over 1,000 pounds of produce were donated to needy families in the community.

Mike says that the hoop houses would allow them to grow fresh vegetables throughout the winter to supplement their school lunches and would bring this project to an entirely new level. “We could have student, teacher and community involvement all year long with a moving hoop house. This would include the 1,400 students in our district along with over 200 staff members. It would mean not only education and engagement in the natural world year round instead of only warm months, but it would also mean healthy food year round.”

A graduate of Monument Mountain High School himself, Mike has been married to his wife, June, for 15 years and they have four children, McKenna, Cam, and twins Mary and Noel.

Diary Starts Here

October 15th, 2010
Below are some great photos of the hoop house that were taken over the summer. According to Sam Levin, one of the student leaders, the hoop house just saved a whole bunch of tomatoes for the cafeteria (everything else outside was killed by the frost). He said, "The kids will be happy when they buy their lunches next week!"

click the image to see a slideshow

July 14th, 2010
Mike sent us an update...

"Our garden size is 12,500 square feet. We provided a number of salad items during the last few weeks of school to all 3 of our district schools (items like lettuce, spinach, radishes, etc.) We are working with an organization called Co-Act that comes once a week to harvest our produce and deliver it to soup kitchens, food pantries and churches in our county. It feeds about 350 people a week. In our hoop house this spring we grew lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and radishes. Currently we have tomatoes and peppers in there. The hoop house was damaged from one of the wind storms we had. The gentleman who helped us put it up has given us instructions as to how to fix it which we will do before the next winter comes.

We have 20 blueberry bushes now and hundreds of raspberry bushes. Our annual Pig Roast in May was a huge success and fed around 350 people. We had student bands, elementary student's garden art and terrific food. It was a great community event and it raised us enough money to get us through another year.

So, in summary, things are going pretty well. We graduate 3 key seniors this year and so we will need to continue to replace these irreplaceable kids!"

November 16th, 2009

We just received this email from Sam Levin, one of the student leaders of Project Sprout...

"On behalf of the students involved in this project, I truly cannot thank you enough. Obviously it was an amazingly generous donation in the first place, and the hoop house will make our project more successful than we ever thought possible; but even above and beyond that, working to build this structure has been a fun learning experience for dozens of kids.

I am writing to you because Mr. Powell asked me to send you some photos of our progress. We aren't quite finished (that is from last week, and it is a third of the structure). The rest of the structure has been built, except for the endwalls. Once we finish that, we'll put the plastic over it, maybe by next weekend!

Again, my deepest gratitude to you and the Jenny's Heroes program, Sam"

click the image to see a slideshow

September 3rd, 2009

Mike sent us an email and some pictures...

"Ninth grade students just started school today and all other students come in tomorrow. It was a great summer at Project Sprout. We had hundreds of volunteers, donated well over a thousand pounds of produce to local food pantries and churches, triple the size of our garden, built two new sheds, planted our orchard, and we have started storing food in our school's walk in cooler. At our faculty welcome back breakfast, the home fries were from our garden and eaten by over 200 staff members and they were delicious! Things are going great!

In terms of the movable hoop house, we have laid out the area we are putting it in and have made arrangements to have it plowed with horse or oxen, which is really cool. We tried in the spring as well but ended up using a tractor. Hopefully it will work out this time. We are looking to purchase this fall if all goes according to plan and with these students, it usually does. This is an amazing project, student initiated and run and we are all so grateful for your foundation choosing us to earn your support."

click the image to see a slideshow

May 20th, 2009

It was such a pleasure to call Mike today at the school. Fellow counselor Sean Flynn helped put together a "meeting" regarding Project Sprout but it was really so I could call and interrupt to give Mike the good news.

click the image to see a slideshow

He told me that 1,400 students and parents are benefiting from the program and that last year, they also donated over 1,000 pounds of food. The press was there and interviewed Mike for the local paper. It turns out they are doing a big fund raiser this weekend with a pig roast for the community. It's a day of eating locally grown produce and listening to high school bands play. Last year a similar event raised $9,000 and this year Mike hopes to raise even more. Sean told me that Mike is an "awesome human being and has done much to enhance the experience at the school and in the community." It's good to know we picked a worthy hero.

05/20/09: Jenny wrote... "Mike, I’m a strong believer in the life-long importance of good nutrition and this program will build generations of healthier children and adults."

05/20/09: Damon wrote... "Hi, Mike... congratulations! "Project Sprout" is a really wonderful endeavor, and I hope your success will insire other schools to grow their own organic food as well."

05/20/09: the Mosers wrote... "Mike, you deserve the praise. Your hard work and dedication sets a great example for your students. Congratulations."

05/21/09: Liza wrote... "Mike, what a great way to promote a future lifestyle to your students that they can enjoy as well as benefit from. With the kids being active participants and being provided with the means through your initiative, I can see where this is such a win-win project for everyone for years to come. Good for you!"

05/22/09: Holly Morse wrote... "Mike! This is such an amazing project. It makes me so proud and happy to have a student joining your school community next fall. Congratulations!"

05/23/09: Terri wrote... "Wow, Mike! This is exactly where we need to be. Your "Project Sprout" should be mandatory at every school in the country! Major kudos to you and the students!"

06/23/09: Anthony wrote... "Mike, it is so awesome how you are connecting with students in such a positive way. America has a growing rate of obesity, and with the work of you, freshman Sam Levin, sophomore Natalie Akers, and junior Sarah Steadman, obesity will not be an issue at your school."