The Coast News Group
Volunteers work on a greenhouse made out of plastic bottles at a one-acre farm next to Ocean Knoll Elementary. The nonprofit Hug It Forward has built 30 schools from plastic bottles in Latin America. In a nod to thinking globally and acting locally, students at Ocean Knoll started the greenhouse this spring. And other novel ideas are sprouting from the farm. Photo by Jared Whitlock

Novel ideas are growing from Encinitas school’s farm

ENCINITAS — Mim Michelove has big plans for a one-acre farm next to Ocean Knoll Elementary. 

A greenhouse constructed from plastic bottles, one of the pieces of the vision, is nearly finished.

“The greenhouse is a nice legacy for the sixth grade class that graduated,” said Michelove, the co-founder of Healthy Day Partners, a nonprofit that oversees the garden.

This spring, the sixth graders at Ocean Knoll Elementary began work on the greenhouse. They collected plastic bottles and put plastic bags into them, making “eco-bricks.” From there, they placed the bottles between chicken wire panels.

The greenhouse drove home lessons the students were learning about the impact of plastic bottles on the environment.

“They were given a comprehensive lesson about recycling and reusing by their teacher,” Michelove said. “The greenhouse put what they learned into practice.”

For students, the project was also a lesson in the phrase “think globally, act locally,” Michelove said.

The Solana Beach Eco Rotary kickstarted the project by telling Michelove and the Encinitas Union School District about the greenhouse concept, which was pioneered by the nonprofit Hug It Forward. Since inception, Hug It Forward has constructed 30 schools from plastic bottles in Latin America.

From an engineering perspective, plastic bottles are a viable construction alternative. That’s because they’re insulating and don’t break down. And if covered in stucco, they’re strong enough to withstand an earthquake.

Plus, plastic bottles make economic sense, halving the cost of building a school in third world countries, according to Maureen Duncan, an Encinitas resident who built plastic-bottle schools in Guatemala.

Duncan was inspired to visit Guatemala and raise money for Hug it Forward after learning about the group from the Solana Beach Eco Rotary. While abroad, she arranged a Skype session between Ocean Knoll and Guatemalan students in a remote village.

“The (Guatemalan) kids already knew about building with plastic bottles,” Duncan said. “It was really neat for them to share with the Encinitas students and let them know how it’s done.”

On a sunny afternoon, Duncan and other volunteers stacked the last of the collected plastic bottles, finishing the greenhouse’s walls. It’s expected the structure will debut in one month. All that remains: placing the roof, which the Leichtag Foundation will build out of recyclable materials.

The greenhouse was primarily funded by a $1,000 grant from the Coastal Community Foundation. Also, local framer Greg Wright donated his time and materials.

Once completed, the greenhouse will be the first of its kind in California, and one of the few in the nation.

Beyond the greenhouse, the farm promotes the think globally, act locally concept in other ways. For instance, in the near future, students at Ocean Knoll will plant crops from around the world that are in danger of going extinct as part of the Global Seed Saving Project.

Debris once blanketed the land where the farm is now, but that changed beginning with the farm’s inception a year ago. Neighbors, district parents and others came together to aid Michelove in planting and sprucing up the land.

Michelove said she spearheaded the farm to teach the surrounding community about the importance of eating healthy.

“This farm is in a pocket of Encinitas that is somewhat underserved,” Michelove said. “It’s important to teach this particular population of children and its families.”

Produce from the farm’s planter beds goes to the district’s nine schools. For example, during the past six weeks, 15 gallons of pizza sauce were made from the farm’s tomatoes and peppers.

And future harvests will only be larger. Over the next month, fruit trees will be planted, along with more crop beds.

Eventually, the goal is to feed residents in need with some of the farm’s produce.

Jim Farely, president and CEO of the Leichtag Foundation, cited a statistic from the nonprofit Feeding America that one in five San Diegans doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Hence, an abundance of locally grown produce for residents is important for fighting hunger.

“Having access to that local tomato or zucchini means people are more likely to eat and eat healthy,” Farely said.

Farely said Encinitas is positioning itself as a leader in locally grown produce by getting back to its agricultural roots.

Along with the Ocean Knoll farm, the Leichtag Foundation is currently drawing up plans to revamp Ecke Ranch with innovative farming in mind. Not to mention, a joint community and school farm on Quail Gardens Drive is taking root.

“We feel this important cluster will provide for our community,” Farely said.


Mim August 26, 2013 at 10:50 am

Thanks to Brian McFadden and Raelyn Antrim, all of their sixth grade students received one of the most powerful aspects of this hands-on experience of building the bottle greenhouse, a comprehensive education on the impact of plastic on the planet. These exceptional teachers called their educational series “Project Plastic” offering meaningful details that informed the students on the building of this project.

Mikayla McFadden August 24, 2013 at 4:18 pm

This is an awesome project that is the result of a collaboration of students, their teachers, and community members. Too bad the teachers, Brian McFadden and Raelynn Antrim, were not mentioned. They dedicated a lot of class time toward this project. Nice work Ocean Knoll!

Marianne August 24, 2013 at 9:31 pm

They worked so hard on this! It was a big accomplishment! My son has Brian McFadden this year and we feel so blessed.

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