IPA Blog

K21 Tower Gardens Help Students Learn to Grow

Monday, October 3, 2016

Years ago, a garden was something you would find in the back yards of most homes. Families planted, weeded, and harvested fruits and vegetables that were added to their dinner tables almost every night. For most people nowadays, the hustle and bustle of life, the increase of processed foods, and the convenience of buying fresh produce in the grocery store have largely ended what was once a necessity. Unfortunately, there are consequences to the family garden going by the wayside, including the fact that very few know where the food they are eating comes from. And even worse, sometimes children can’t even identify produce in its natural form.

Recently, K21 Health Foundation approved grants for both Warsaw Community Schools (WCS) and Lakeland Christian Academy (LCA) to introduce garden towers into some of their classrooms and curriculums. Because the indoor gardens are designed to grow produce year round, they are a great way for kids to learn more about nutrition and a farm-to-table approach to healthy living. An added benefit to the gardens is that kids get to experience the joy of seeing the growth of the produce they plant and learn about specific vitamins and minerals each one contains.

Warsaw Community Schools Tower Garden

In the spring of 2016, K21 Health Foundation awarded Warsaw Community Schools $18,655 to purchase Tower Gardens and supplies. Gardens were purchased for each of the eight elementary schools, the two middle schools, the high school, and the alternative learning center. Additionally, the three gardens were purchased for the Warsaw Area Career Center. With the assistance of building administrators, teacher were identified to lead the Tower Garden learning activities in each building.

All Tower Garden Lead Teachers participated in training before setting up the gardens in their classrooms. This training was led by Master Gardener, Steve Koontz. Steve was joined by other Master Gardeners. Teachers had the opportunity to practice building a garden, learned to select and start seeds, garden maintenance, harvesting techniques, and learning possibilities for their students. Additionally, the teachers were able to collaborate with fellow Tower Garden teachers and Master Gardeners.

Grow time! Teachers returned to their classrooms excited and knowledgeable about getting started with the Tower Gardens. Some teachers came in over the weekend to build and prepare the garden for students while many other teachers had their students assist with the building and set up of the gardens. Students planned, planted, and cared for their seedlings until it was time to transfer the plants into the actual Tower Garden.

The majority of the classrooms opted to grow lettuce for their first growing cycle. The short growing cycle and ease of maintenance were influential variables in the choice of lettuce. Results indicate that lettuce was a great decision. Students were able to observe the entire growing cycle and reap the benefits of the harvests. Many students shared that before this experience they had no idea lettuce came from seeds. Others experienced eating lettuce for the first time – and liked it! Another advantage of lettuce is the large harvest that results. Students were able to share their harvest with classes, parents, and school staff.

Warsaw Community Schools, particularly the Tower Garden Lead Teachers, have been sharing the story of their gardens. Many Facebook posts and Twitter tweets have been shared featuring the student learning resulting from their experience growing healthy food with their Tower Gardens. The lead teachers also have a ‘closed’ Facebook group created as a place to share ideas, trouble shoot issues, and share celebrations.

Tower Gardens are already up and growing this semester. Some classes are planning to begin the year growing lettuce and venturing into other produce as the year progresses. Other classes are trying new seeds from the start. The student led restaurant located at the Warsaw Area Career Center has various types of lettuce as well as various herbs growing. The students and chef intentionally planned the seed selection based on restaurant needs and growing cycles to allow for uninterrupted use in the restaurant.

The learning, the excitement, and the expanded knowledge of healthy eating possibilities have already surpassed K21’s original vision. We look forward to seeing what this year (and future years) brings.

For more information, read Ink Free News recent article on this project here.

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