Utica family revitalizes greenhouse, offers youth program

Opening ceremony to be held April 27

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published April 1, 2014

 Faye Cerku, of Utica, shows young students how to trim flowers for Beyond the Seed, an entrepreneurial program designed to educate youth and better the community, March 30. The Cerku family and youth from a local 4-H club recently revitalized the greenhouse at Wolcott Mill in Ray Township.

Faye Cerku, of Utica, shows young students how to trim flowers for Beyond the Seed, an entrepreneurial program designed to educate youth and better the community, March 30. The Cerku family and youth from a local 4-H club recently revitalized the greenhouse at Wolcott Mill in Ray Township.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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UTICA — The Cerku family, of Utica, made it their mission for the last several months to get the Wolcott Mill Metropark greenhouse functional and up to code.

Easier said than done. But with more than 1,200 hours under their belts and more than $10,000 in donated supplies from local companies and greenhouses, the Cerkus — Gus; Faye; Ashley, 23; and 16-year-old Ryan — did it.

The 30-by-90-foot greenhouse had been out of commission for nearly a decade because growth in programming left staff with no time to maintain it, Park Interpreter Kathleen Clinton said. She said staff used it for storage and hosting some programs.

The family also created two 70-by-70-foot gardens near the greenhouse — one for vegetables and one for flowers, which also will serve as a tea garden.

“The Cerku family had a wonderful idea, and we are very excited for this season when children come through for group tours (to see the greenhouse and gardens),” Clinton said.

Faye has been a 4-H leader for 16 years and both of her children have been involved in the experiential learning and leadership program for youth since they were 5 years old, Faye said. Through 4-H, she said she regularly volunteered at the farm and had been eyeing the greenhouse for several years.

“I approached Wolcott and said, ‘I’d really like to do this,’” she said. “My daughter Ashley and I worked at a greenhouse for the past five years and we thought, ‘We can for sure do this.’”

The family, along with youth from their 4-H Club called “Midnite Riders,” repaired the foundation of the greenhouse; replaced the watering pump, watering lines and valves; moved fences back to make more room for the gardens; cleared heavy picnic tables from inside to create space for cultivating flowers and crops; and more.

“Basically, it’s just so much,” Faye said. “The list goes on and on and on. You could write a whole page.”

The group, she said, began planting in February.

But their mission was twofold: They also successfully implemented a free entrepreneurial program for youth ages 6-19 called “Beyond the Seed” to enrich the community.

The program teaches children how to grow and take care of plants in the greenhouse, how to transfer and care for them in the garden, and how to harvest and ready their product for sale.

Faye said 18 4-H families currently are involved in the program, which launched in March. She said she tries to have at least three classes a month, and then families are welcome to come foster their plants from the class as often as they wish.

As soon as flowers and crops are ready, Faye said the children would begin selling them to the public on weekends at Wolcott Mill — their own version of a farmers market.

“It’s rewarding for us and all involved,” she said. “I could sum it up as life-changing for everyone.”

Clinton said that there is already a waiting list for the Beyond the Seed program.

“The greenhouse is a great educational feature at the farm,” Clinton said, and added that the Beyond the Seed program aligns with Wolcott Mill’s motto of teaching members of the public to feed themselves, and the Huron-Clinton Metroparks’ motto of “Get out and play.”

The Cerku family will host a grand opening celebration at 2 p.m. April 27.

They will also conduct themed tea parties in the floral gardens, beginning with a Mother’s Day tea at noon May 11.

The gardens are open to the public every day from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and the greenhouse and farm stands have varied weekend hours. For more information or for upcoming tea events, visit www.beyond-the-seed.com or call (586) 752-5932 and ask for Faye. Wolcott Mill Metropark Farm Center is located at 65775 Wolcott Road in Ray Township.

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