News & Events

December 18, 2019

Portage Health Foundation helps jump-start incredible greenhouse project

A $20,000 grant awarded in 2019 to the Copper Counter Intermediate School District (CCISD) is helping shape a brighter future of hands-on learning for students of all ages. The grant provided the needed funding to complete the restoration of a 30-year-old greenhouse on the CCISD Learning Center grounds in Hancock, including new panels and gas heaters, covering costs associated with ventilation, electrical and plumbing, and installing new planting tables and potting benches.

“We could not have done this without the Portage Health Foundation,” said Karyn Juntunen, community transition program teacher and lead on the project.

Green House ProjectJuntunen has been running academic programming around agriculture for more than two decades, including an annual plant sale that 

attracts gardeners from around the Western U.P. as they look to get “the best” tomatoes and zinnias for their gardens. The fundraising programming has helped prepare students with disabilities for their next step in life.

“We’re also educating the community on what our program is,” Juntunen said. “And that education goes into trying to find my students jobs in the community. Now that we can expand that to all of the rest of the students (in the CCISD), and not only that, but teach the other teachers how to incorporate this greenhouse, I just can’t wait to see what we can do.”

The idea of bringing the greenhouse to the CCISD Learning Center came about quickly when the greenhouse was offered to the CCISD by Copper Country Mental Health, who had been letting students use it each spring since 2004. Juntunen didn’t have a plan for how she was going to make it work, but she knew that greenhouse needed to be available to students.

“People asked ‘How do you think you’re going to get this done?’ I just said, ‘This is the Copper Country. This is what we do. We help each other. And that’s what happened,’” Juntunen said.

It took an immense amount of community collaboration to make it a reality. Students from the CCISD Career and Technical Education (CTE) construction trades classroom helped make the structure. A $2,000 grant from the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative (LSSI) supported the financial cost of a barrier-free foundation for the structure. MJO Contracting completed the foundation as a donation of time and materials. Addition financial donations have been made by the Calumet Knights of Columbus, Houghton Rotary Club, Houghton Lions Club, Kiwanis Club of the Copper Country, Keweenaw Random Acts of Community Kindness and the Aspirus ‘Light the Night Fun Run’ fundraiser. Many other individuals and businesses have helped with materials, sweat equity and monetary donations.

With nearly 100” of snow on the ground already this winter, the structure is holding up well. The heating system is installed and CTE students will soon be bringing in planting tables and potting benches. As spring nears, anticipating is building.

“Watch this project grow,” said Abbey Palmer, education coordinator at MSU Extension. Palmer has been an integral part of the planning for the greenhouse, and is helping teachers with their curriculum development. “It is going to take off, and it’s going to amaze you with the beautiful things that are going to happen. Not just the plants that come out of it, but the community relationships and the student learning.”

To learn more about the project, check out the 12-minute video available below, and follow the progress on the "Copper Country ISD Greenhouse Project" Facebook page.