There’s an unusual machine in the front office of Independence Elementary – something that looks straight out of a science fiction movie. Yet, despite the strange look, students are flocking to it, eager to see what changes are occurring.
The item – a hydroponic tower garden – combines water, air and special lighting to quickly grow vegetables and fruits. The school launched the garden in early October and fifth grade classes have already begun harvesting fast-growing plants, such as lettuce.
According to Chris Burkhardt, director of Lakota’s Child Nutrition and Wellness, the tower garden is a gift from JTM Food Group. “I was working with JTM on another project and they asked me if there was a school in Lakota which could use a garden,” he explains. “I learned that classes at Independence Elementary had just finished reading a book about a community garden and I knew we had a perfect match.”
“Our fifth grade students read the realistic fiction book Seed Folks as part of their social studies curriculum,” said Independence Principal Greg Finke. “The story revolves around the start-up of an urban garden and how it builds community among those in the neighborhood.”
Finke sees another match for fifth-graders at the school. “The tower garden is a perfect way to tie in many of our curriculum lessons as it is an example of the interconnectedness of all the disciplines,” he states.
Healthy eating through fresh, naturally-grown vegetables and the thrill of seeing how plants grow are other benefits. In addition, students are honing their science and math skills as they tend the plants. Finke states, “We’ve seen how the students are so interested in the growing process and the excitement they have in sampling the plants that they’ve grown. We plan to expand on these concepts by building a school garden in the spring.”