Students Kendra Arteaga and Valeria Rodrigues-Pachuca harvest some fresh lettuce to give to the Enumclaw Food Bank. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Students Kendra Arteaga and Valeria Rodrigues-Pachuca harvest some fresh lettuce to give to the Enumclaw Food Bank. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Students grow food for local food bank

The project was made possible by an aeroponic tower garden in the classroom.

Ms. Diane Dal Santo’s third-grade class recently gifted the Enumclaw Food Bank several bags of fresh produce, thanks to their in-class tower garden.

This is the second year Sunrise Elementary School has used a tower garden to teach students about plants and how they grow.

Hydroponic systems use only a nutrient-heavy water solution to feed the plants, and doesn’t use any soil. Aeroponic systems go even further, switching out the water solution for an aerosol (mist) solution.

Dal Santo’s tower garden is an aeroponic system that was acquired through an Enumclaw Schools Foundation grant and Juice Plus, a national company that aims to increase people’s health and wellness through nutrition.

“The tower garden was a great hands on activity that incorporated many academic skills that span across multiple curriculum areas including the science targets of plant cycles and adaptations,” Dal Santo said. In my classroom I like to promote the traits of generosity and kindness and the intrinsic feeling in doing so. After a discussion about people in our community who are less fortunate than us, the idea of donating our tower garden results was born.”

Enumclaw local Kathy Buck, the company’s national marketing director, lent Sunrise Elementary their first tower garden so that her grandson, who was then in Ms. Morgan Strand’s second-grade class, could learn about the benefits of aeroponics first-hand. Ms. Strand then wrote the grant for her own personal garden tower, and Buck’s went to Ms. Dal Santo’s classroom.

“It just fits really well with kids and school,” Buck said in an interview, adding that there many benefits a classroom being able to grow its own food, referring to Stephen Ritz, his Green Bronx Machine project, and how it affects student performance. “He changed the scores — this is a very low-income area in the Bronx in New York — because of his emphasis on towers. Their science and math scores went up.”

The Green Bronx Machine, which secured its nonprofit status in 2011, has reportedly helped increased the state test scores of students at Community School 55 by 45 percent, as well as increased attendance rates from 40 to 93 percent and cut behavioral incidents in half.

“As a district we are striving for the learning of making healthier choices for students,” said Mike Nelson, Enumclaw School District’s superintendent. “We want teachers and students both excited about the projects they are doing in classrooms and this [aeroponic] garden has helped exciting learning moments occur in both Morgan Strand’s and Diane Dal Santo’s classrooms.”

Buck said there are many benefits to tower gardens — since there’s no soil, weeding is a chore of the past, and closed-loop system tower gardens need roughly 90 percent less water and space than traditional gardens. All in all, her company’s website says, a tower garden can help grow 30 percent more food three times faster than traditional gardening.

“Last year… from the time we put them in the tower to the time they could harvest, four weeks,” she continued. “And they were huge, mature plants.”

However, there can be some drawbacks to these sorts of tower gardens: the one in Dal Santo’s room needs constant power for the water pumps and the four high-powered artificial lights. Noise can also be an issue, and some crops are just not suited for indoor growing.

It should be noted that tower gardens are different than garden towers, which are also vertical gardens, but use soil and compost.

Buck hopes that the academic success of using a tower garden in class will mean the practice will spread to all the other Enumclaw School District schools.

For a more information about the Green Bronx Machine, go to www.courierherald.com to read the online article.

Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Photo by Ray Miller-Still

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