South Whidbey School Farms gets upgrades

Grow lights are now powered by solar panels.

The South Whidbey School Farms program’s new outdoor classroom was recently outfitted with weather-related upgrades.

The open-sided classroom, similar in appearance to a pole barn, was built last fall and has become an integral part of the students’ curriculum, especially during a time when outdoor learning is mounting in popularity.

Last month, solar panels were added to its roof and wind curtains were attached to its open sides. The upgrades, especially the curtains, have improved the classroom’s atmosphere.

“Before, we always had to think about the weather, about if it’ll be too rainy or windy,” said School Farms Manager Cary Peterson.

Funds raised for construction, including the updates, totaled over $25,000. Hand in Hand Partners and Seattle Seed Company each donated grants, which the community matched.

Goosefoot Community Fund and Whidbey Community Foundation also gave grants. Volunteers helped build the structure.

“It was a great big community barn-raising,” said Peterson.

Now, with the return of more students to the school campuses, she predicts the classroom will be even more popular.

The ten solar panels will power not only twinkle lights in the classroom but also fluorescent lights in a nearby building which will help vegetable plant starts to grow.

Thousands of plant starts, from bok choy to lettuce to spinach, will be planted soon. Peterson said 4,000 starts were given away to families last year who found themselves at home more and able to tend a garden because of the pandemic.