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From ‘Broken Down And Dirty’ To Up And Running, How A WDMCS Student Restored Valley’s Greenhouse (03/31/21)

March 31, 2021 | The interest of agriculture runs in Valley High School junior Nathan Steimel’s family.

Growing up with gardens of vegetables and making homemade salsa, a wealth of knowledge has passed down his family tree. That, coupled with natural leadership skills, has led Steimel to revitalize Valley’s greenhouse.

“Being able to work in the greenhouse has given me a vent through COVID-19,” he said.

How It All Began

nathan steimel examines a plant in valley's greenhouse

Steimel began working on the greenhouse project during the second semester of his sophomore year. 

Every semester as part of Valley’s honors program, Steimel works on an in-depth project. For his sophomore year project, he wanted to study different concentrations of root hormones and needed a greenhouse space. Steimel knew Valley had one and asked how to use it, but was told “you can't use it because it’s not working, it's broken down, and dirty,” he recalled.

“The basic problem was the temperature control system was not functioning properly,” Steimel explained. “The vents were supposed to open or close based on the outside temperature, and since the system wasn’t working, it would get super hot in the summer or it would get super cold in the winter and kill the plants.”

Steimel realized that restoring the greenhouse could be a fantastic project and serve as an opportunity to showcase his leadership skills. He also thought it could become a great place for students to use. Steimel credits Valley Associate Principal Josh Griffith for being that driving force to move the project in the right direction.

“A lot of teachers wanted to see the greenhouse up and running and using the space,” he said. “The mentorship helped a lot.’’

This certainly wasn’t a one-person job, Steimel said. Besides Griffith, helping hands were offered from science teacher Brant Reif, special education teacher Ashley Degroote, special education teacher Michele Frank, and programming specialist JP Bubendorfer. 

“Mr. Griffith helped me become a leader, Mr. Reif is very knowledgeable about agriculture and greenhouses, Mrs. Degroote helped start planting; Mrs. Frank was important for providing feedback of progress, and Mr. Bubendorfer restored the greenhouse. You would not believe the wealth of knowledge on temperature controls systems he has,” Steimel said. 

Raising Thousands For Restoration 

exterior of valley's greenhouse

The process to restore the greenhouse wasn’t easy. It required an investment. Steimel put a great deal of effort and energy into raising the money.

The original quote from the company providing the product for restoration of the greenhouse came in at $10,000. The price shocked Steimel, but he was up for the challenge.

“Just hearing that was a little scary coming into the project,” Steimel said. “I knew it was going to be something worthwhile and to at least try.”

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Steimel contacted many companies around the greater Des Moines metro and asked for donations.

“COVID made it extremely hard because a lot of businesses were suffering not having to be open,” he said. “A lot of businesses couldn’t donate.”

Nathan received small donations from local businesses, including Stine Seed Company, Hy-Vee, and Casey’s General Stores. He also submitted a grant application with Corteva Agriscience, receiving a grant worth $4,500. While Steimel raised the money he sought, a second quote came back at $5,200 for the products needed for restoration.

Now able to begin the process with the funds he had raised, Steimel teamed up with Bubendorfer to get things rolling. Restoration took about two months to complete.

“‘It was estimated to be done March 15, and Mr. Bubendorfer did an awesome job and was able to get it done on the last day of February,” Steimel said. “Hats off to him.’’

The (New) Future Of Valley’s Greenhouse

valley junior nathan steimel waters plants inside valley's greenhouse

Since March 12, Valley’s greenhouse has been fully restored and is available for use. The Senior Plus Program has already begun planting, and Steimel is in the process of starting the school’s new Greenhouse Club, with Reif as the club’s sponsor.

“Anyone at Valley can join the Greenhouse Club, just contact me or Mr. Reif,” Steimel said. “I love to see a lot of people in the greenhouse.”

There are plenty of other plans for the greenhouse, too.

“A lot of student-led activities that build leadership,” Steimel explained. “There are a lot of problem-solving opportunities and room to grow the essential life skills that the Senior Plus Program was looking to do. The greenhouse has a lot of limitless possibilities and opportunities.”

Some future projects include growing flowers to sell to Valley parents and students as well as food to donate.

Steimel is a prime example of an emerging leader who’s proved that you can do anything you set your mind to. He feels “really proud and really blessed” to take this project from start to finish.

“The ability to work with and to even have these awesome teachers to say ‘this kid is wanting to raise $10,000? I guess I can help him.’ I don’t think any teacher would say that is remotely doable, but it makes me happy to be surrounded by these types of teachers,” Steimel said.

If you’d like to donate, you can send money to Stacey Karnowski in the Student Services Office. Please make checks payable to “The Valley Greenhouse.”

Story by Leah Jones, Valley High School senior