Assemblywoman Jenne Tours WISER Greenhouses at SUNY Potsdam

February 17, 2018

Assemblywoman Addie A.E.Jenne discusses indoor growing techniques with Ray Bowdish, coordinator of the WISER Center. Dr. Jan Trybula (background left), chair of SUNY Potsdam's Biology Department, and PACES chef John Van Kennen (background right) discuss some of the greens growing in the WISER greenhouse.

Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne recently visited the Wagner Institute for Sustainability and Ecological Research (WISER) greenhouses at SUNY Potsdam.

Ray Bowdish, coordinator of the WISER Center, said the program provides applied research and educational programming in sustainability and ecology. He told Assemblywoman Jenne the WISER activities and outreach begin on campus and extend to the local and global communities.

The program's goals are to increase applied learning opportunities in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, focused on sustainability and ecology; enhance awareness of sustainability and ecological conservation issues; provide technical support and educational collaboration around food and nutrition curricula; and promote sustainability initiatives on campus and in our region by teaming with local community groups and institutions.

Assemblywoman Jenne saw greens growing in power towers as well as other flowers and produce being grown in more traditional greenhouse settings.

"It was interesting to see the tower technology and work being done to use natural ways to control pests. They have developed a curriculum that can excite the next generation of growers, which is vital to the future of our economy," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

"There is room for both specialty crops and industrial production, and we can support both here in the North Country. With today's technology, farming can look very different from just 30 years ago when I was helping in the family garden," she added.

"As we incorporate new growing methods and grow different things, our next challenge is getting it into markets and processing for storage. It's exciting times. And rewarding to be involved in helping our farmers/growers evolve and get their products in front of new consumers," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

Mr. Bowdish shared steps the WISER Center program has taken to form relationships with schools from Salmon River to Canton.

The program benefits from the work of 24 interns and student volunteers. He said the program has been modeled to collaborate with the farm-to-school effort.

Those interns, for example, helped Canton Central students determine the cause of issues with produce they were seeking to grow at their school campus.

He said the interns were able to interact with the middle school students and identify the cause of the growing issues.

Produce grown in the greenhouse and in grow racks located on the SUNY Potsdam campus are utilized by PACES, the food service provider on campus.

John Van Kennen, a PACES chef, estimated approximately 50 pounds of greens have already been used in the PACES kitchens this year.

"We try to incorporate the micro-greens into our garnishes," he pointed out.

Assemblywoman Jenne has been a strong proponent of the farm-to-school program in the North Country.

She has secured $300,000 in funding in each of the past two state budgets, bringing locally grown products to school cafeterias in St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties.

Nineteen school districts are taking part in the pilot program, which has resulted in over 150,000 pounds of 47 different local food products being served at breakfast and lunch in participating schools. The program has led to 15local farms selling directly to schools.

The WISER Center comprises three greenhouse zones (including the Stowell Biodiversity Classroom), a "link" to Stowell where the public can enter from outdoors and a classroom space with computing stations for students.

The WISER Center is utilized by a host of current classes, including sustainable agriculture, general biology, genetics, ecology, plant physiology and botany. New courses in horticulture urban farming, hydroponics and aquaculture will be offered through the WISER Center in the near future.

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John VanKennen (l), a PACES chef at SUNY Potsdam, explains the length of the greens he likes for his garnishes during a discussion with Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne. Ray Bowdish (r), coordinator of the WISER Center, was also part of the conversation.

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John VanKennen (r), a PACES chef at SUNY Potsdam, talks about some of the produce grown on campus that he uses in the university's dining centers during a discussion with Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne. Ray Bowdish (center), coordinator of the WISER Center, was also part of the conversation.

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Ray Bowdish (r), coordinator of the WISER Center, talks with Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne about some of the work SUNY Potsdam students do in the campus greenhouses.

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Ray Bowdish (r), coordinator of the WISER Center, discusses the use of power towers being used to grow greens with Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne.

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Ray Bowdish (l), coordinator of the WISER Center, discusses the use of power towers being used to grow greens with Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne.