FPCC Greenhouse Yields Food, Flowers, Trees

Nov 15th, 2005 | By | Category: 17-2: Sustainability, Tribal College News

The high price of tomatoes in northeast Montana inspired Fort Peck Community College (FPCC, Poplar, MT) to start its own greenhouse. Tomatoes are in high demand for use in Indian tacos and salads at FPCC’s dinners and fundraisers.

Equipped with a hydroponic system, the greenhouse provides the “ideal growing environment,” according to Brent Vinger of the FPCC Agriculture Department. The system provides a continuous flow of nutrients over the roots of the plants.

When FPCC harvested tomatoes last summer, staff members created and bottled their own salsa. Using the greenhouse and an outdoor garden, they also produced lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, and various herbs. “We used as much as we could and gave as much away as possible,” said Vinger.

In addition to vegetables, the greenhouse has produced flowers and hundreds of cottonwood trees. The college’s reforestation project, however, has not been as successful as the other crops. About 400 cottonwood trees started in the greenhouse were transplanted in June 2005 by FPCC staff along a 40-mile stretch of the Missouri River bottom. Native to the river bottom, cottonwoods help keep erosion down.

“We planted the trees in a sandy, low lying drainage area as cottonwood trees need a lot of moisture,” said Vinger.

The Missouri River water level has been dropping due to the dry weather, lack of spring runoff, and release policies used by the Corps of Engineers at Fort Peck Dam. As a result, the roots of the cottonwood trees were not being replenished, and the cottonwood trees became a “dying forest,” said Chris Martinez of the FPCC Agriculture Department.

FPCC’s Agriculture Department staff has been collecting seeds to start more cottonwoods. “It’s a building process,” said Vinger, who said they are working with the county extension service and the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes’ Fish and Game Department.

The staff is proud of the flowers grown in the greenhouse, which were transplanted to large, round, wooden planters. Placed along the highway that goes through Poplar, the flowers are a colorful and beautiful reminder of what FPCC’s greenhouse project can do.

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