AMBLER — Teaching area children about produce and healthy eating is something Howard Brosius said he loves — and what he loves even more is taking it on the road.
“Seeing the little faces, and when I go into a classroom you can barely hear yourself think with, ‘Mr. Howard, Mr. Howard, Mr. Howard,’” he said.
Brosius, executive director of Chipping Hill Micro Farms, pursues his passion on wheels with a mobile greenhouse built to grow plants and double as a small classroom.
The nonprofit launched in 2010, according to Brosius, but his love of fruits and vegetables began much earlier.
He grew up in Unionville in Chester County during World War II on a working farm with dairy, cattle, chickens, pigs, steer, vegetables, and mushrooms.
“He [Brosius’ father] was one of the first mushroom growers in the country,” he said.
Brosius went on to attend Penn State where he received a degree in agriculture.
When he returned to his family’s farm, he found love and married his wife, DJ.
Brosius said that DJ was a kindergarten teacher, but added that she was instrumental in getting Chipping Mills Micro Farms off the ground.
“She helps me with the program designs, and the recipes, and comes to some of the classes,” he said.
After starting the nonprofit, Brosius would go to various daycare centers and schools across the Philadelphia area. He would bring 4’x8’ heated raised beds for the planted herbs and vegetables, but it was difficult for the instructors to water and maintain the mini gardens.
“I came up with this idea: why don't I just take it with me?” he said.
With that, his dream to build a mobile greenhouse was born.
“When I initially decided to build the greenhouse, I had a dilemma,” Brosius said.
Brosius lives in a gated community in Blue Bell, and he said he needed to find another place to park the greenhouse once it was built.
He reached out to Weavers Way Co-op in Ambler, and the company was receptive to his program and overall “community outreach.”
With the help of his son-in-law, Pete Maruca, a builder, Brosius used a 8.5’x25’ flatbed tandem trailer, framed wood trusses that took 50 cans of spray paint, double walled polycarbonate panels, and string lights to create the greenhouse. The entire building process took about six months.
“I’m going to try to create Alaska in June, which is 16 to 18 hours [of] sunlight a day,” Brosius said. “Once it gets a little warmer and [maybe by the] middle of February, beginning of March, I'll be able to grow like crazy in here. Plants will absolutely go bananas because of the light effect.”
He uses heaters and has a thermostat inside the facility so that it won’t get colder than 40 degrees. The space is also complete with picnic tables built specifically for 4-year-olds to learn about and taste vegetables. Plans for improvements including installing an air conditioner and building a shelf to include a microwave and burner for cooking.
He’s received grant funding from several donors including Hallee Adelman and the Lenfest Foundation. Additionally, the Home Depot Foundation donated materials and John Kennedy Ford donated a truck.
Brosius also faced another obstacle in his journey: where to plant his herbs and vegetables? He connected with Dan Lurie, manager of Erdenheim Farm near Chestnut Hill. Brosius said he starts plantings with seeds in supermarket baskets at his Blue Bell home and then takes them to the farm to be germinated.
When asked what types of species he typically plants, Brosius said greens including flowers, carrots and radishes.
Brosius said the “mobile greenhouse is a game changer,” as he can inspire more children across the greater Philadelphia area with his lessons of healthy eating habits. He's had the greenhouse for about one month.
Brosius reached out to the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit Head Start about including his program into their curriculum.
MCIU’s Head Start program, designed to assist children from low-income families throughout the area, is free and federally funded. Children ages 3 to 5 years old are eligible to participate.
The Head Start class at Ambler Borough Hall on Jan. 14 had about 20 children present for the 45-minute lesson.
Brosius started with a story, went through the various fruits and vegetables, allowed the children to sample them and ended with another story.
He’ll showcase the produce he grows for educational purposes, and include other items he purchased at grocery stores to distribute to the students.
Brosius said that seeing their smiling faces is priceless.
“That’s the thing that gets you up in the morning,” he said.
Brosius also works with several other MCIU Pre-K Counts initiatives, Childspace Mt. Airy and God's Garden Preschool in Roxborough.
Future plans include recipe pamphlets and dietary recommendations for the children to take home to their families.
In addition to all the other benefits, Brosius' greenhouse is good for getting notice, he said.
“All of a sudden with a greenhouse, people ... blow their horns, and stop me on the road, and want to know what I’m doing." People park alongside to ask about this odd-looking vehicle.
“That’s how the community sees me,” Brosius said. “I’m something special to the community.”
For more information about his programs, contact Brosius via email at email@example.com or call 813-468-9558.