Young students in two Lincoln County classrooms are working hands-on with produce, learning aeroponics concepts and figuring out the tenets of healthy eating.
Tricia Moore’s first-grade class at Lincoln Elementary and Debra Penn’s fifth-grade class at Boone Elementary were given Tower Gardens to work with – equipment that allows the kids to grow produce indoors right in their classrooms. The towers were paid for by grants by the Troy Rotary Club.
Both classes recently held their first harvest of their gardens, blending the greens they grew into smoothies to try.
“We made fruit and veggie smoothies two weeks ago and the students loved them,” Penn said in an email. “We did not add anything other than cinnamon or honey (no yogurt or milk) and they were shocked at how good the smoothies tasted. They can’t wait until our tomatoes grow so we can make homemade salsa. In the end, the students want to use our Tower Garden to teach others and make a class book about our experience and healthy living.”
Moore said her class assembled their Tower Garden on Oct. 4, and planted their first line of crops soon after.
“We planted on a Friday afternoon, Monday morning when we came in there were sprouts in all the little pods,” Moore said.
She wanted her class to engage in the Tower Garden project to teach them the basics of healthy eating and to expose them to first-hand experience growing plants and produce.
“A lot of them don’t have gardens or have that opportunity,” Moore said.
Through the first growing process, Moore said the first-graders have learned a lot, and have busted some pre-conceived notions the kids had about agriculture and gardening.
“What does a plant need? Dirt? Well we taught them that it doesn’t need dirt,” Moore said. Produce in the Tower Gardens is planted in Rockwool, and water is trickled down through the tower to hydrate the plants.
“And then just seeing how things don’t just come from the grocery store was another big thing for them,” Moore said, adding that learning the life cycle of a plant has been a part of that. Students also took ownership during the process, taking pride as the produce in the tower grew. Part of the growing process is checking and regulating the pH of the garden, and making sure there’s enough nutrients in the water. In Penn’s fifth-grade class, the students have been focusing on the process and benefits of aeroponics, as well as healthy living and how nutrition affects the body.
“I only see my students once per week and I love seeing their reactions each week as they walk in,” Penn said. “They immediately go to the Tower Garden to observe and see what has grown the most. They are fascinated by it.”
The produce can be clipped and will regrow, so Moore said they’ll raise another batch of greens. After that, the class has been discussing what it would like to plant next, like strawberries and cucumbers.
Through teaching kids to grow fruits and vegetables, Lisa Merollo-Maddock said they will be more open to eating those kinds of foods.
“And that’s really what we’re teaching them, is healthy nutrition for their bodies, for their brains, for learning,” Merollo-Maddock said. Merollo-Maddock works for Juice Plus, which produces the Tower Gardens, and she said that she’s been trying to get a program like this – where kids learn about healthy eating – going for years in the county.
And two towers isn’t enough – she wants to seed the local schools with the Tower Gardens to provide knowledge and fresh food to as many kids as possible. Financing the project is simple, Merollo-Maddock said, and the money for the gardens can be raised easily, but finding the partnerships with local classrooms and schools has proved to be the real challenge. Only by working with the Lincoln County R-III District’s Curriculum Department was she able to find two teachers willing and interested in taking on the project.
“That’s what I’m looking for, people that already understand the value of gardening, already understand that this is a missing link that kids are not getting,” Merollo-Maddock said.
Once the process is streamlined and the students are consistently growing things, Moore said the plan will be to donate the fresh produce to the Key Youth Center.
Merollo-Maddock also has hopes to get more towers in more Lincoln County schools, and to use them to provide fresh food for the Lincoln County R-III School District’s Buddy Bags program.