Wednesday, April 15, 2020

‘A growing experience’


MCC’s Ag Club turns classroom lessons into hands-on fundraiser

One place where the world is normal this spring is the greenhouse on Montcalm Community College’s Sidney campus.

The greenhouse is bursting with color and fragrance as more than 350 10-inch hanging baskets grow and overflow, creating cascading blooms and vibrant foliage.

This is the third year the MCC Ag Club has organized its hanging baskets sale to raise funds to support club projects and to give back to various causes in the community.

Twenty-year-old Kathleen Johnson, of Amble, has been involved with the hanging baskets project since it began three years ago, and she said it has been “a growing experience.”

This year, the project took an unexpected turn when MCC announced it was going to move its spring classes to an online format on March 16, as concerns began to heighten over coronavirus (COVID-19). At that time, students no longer were permitted to be on campus due to social distancing guidelines that were put in place by governmental leaders.

“Thursday (March 12) was the last day we were on campus, and we were in the greenhouse from about 11 a.m. until campus closed repotting the plants into the hanging baskets,” Johnson said. “We put a lot of effort into getting all the plants and we didn’t want to just have them all go to waste.”

Merry Kim Meyers, who serves as a club advisor as well as the Michigan State University (MSU) Institute of Agricultural Technology (IAT) program coordinator at MCC, said the plant sale began blooming long before the plants began growing.

“The students start planning in the winter, deciding on varieties of plants, discussing best practices and how to promote their sale,” she said.

Meyers said last fall a representative from Vandenberg Horticulture in Howell attended an Ag Club meeting to talk with the students about plants that grow well in our local environment.

“He introduced them to new trending plant varieties in the industry and helped them select those that would be most successful in our MCC greenhouse environment along with providing our customers beautiful baskets,” she said. “He gave them practical knowledge beyond the book.”

Johnson said the students worked together to make their plant selections and then they placed their order.

“When the baby plants, or plugs, came in, we planted them in small pots and worked together to keep them watered and cared for,” she said.

Just before the college closed, Johnson led the effort to make sure all the plugs were replanted into the hanging baskets.

“The best thing I would say about this project is everybody coming together to work on it,” she said. “Our club advisors – Merry Kim Meyers, Michelle Gibson and Dan Rossman – are always there to give advice and lend a hand.”

Johnson said club members have tried to learn best practices to enhance the project.

“The first year, we put a couple different plants in one basket. Those seemed to sell really nicely. The following year, we did about 500 baskets, and we bit off a little more than we could chew. This year, we scaled back, and we put more of the mixture baskets together. Hopefully those will be a good hit again,” she said.

She is also proud of how the club has invested its proceeds.

“We have a complete irrigation system that we were able to purchase for the greenhouse,” she said. “Giving back go the community is a huge commitment for the Ag Club, too.”

Last fall, the club helped bring Thanksgiving dinner to the tables of 25 Montcalm County Head Start families and provided ag appropriate books and bookmarks for the children, too.

Gibson said it’s unfortunate that the students can’t finish what they started this year.

“They are upset that they can’t come to the greenhouse and work,” she said. “They like to be together and work together.

“A good lesson out of all of this is that they had to adapt and change some things at the last minute due to what’s going on in the world. It’s a life lesson for them,” she said. “They have all kinds of plans for what they want to do when they come back.”

During the three years she has been involved with the project, Johnson said “one of the biggest things I have learned is to be able to adapt and change. From year to year, we learn how to market, how to sell and how to change so we grow and don’t just stay the same.”

Currently, MCC is closed until May 1.

To comply with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order that does not allow commercial greenhouses to operate at this time, the MCC Ag Club is adjusting its hanging baskets sale timeline. The club is accepting reservations for plants, with payment to be made at the time of pick up. Currently, the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order is in effect through April 30. Thus, the club hopes to begin distribution on May 1. However, the club will continue to comply with the order as long as it is in effect.

Five different selections are offered in 10-inch hanging baskets for $15 each or two for $25. In addition, two deluxe baskets featuring geraniums and accent plants in premium basket containers are available for $18 each or two for $30. Descriptions and photos of the hanging baskets are available online at Reservations for plants will be accepted through the club’s pre-sale link at or contact Gibson at or Ag Club member Candace Lang at