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Growing Produce from the Ground, er, Air Up

Students Fund and Tend Tower Garden


Discovery Elementary fifth-graders are growing up –– with leafy, green plants on their Tower Garden. Bib and gourmet lettuce, basil, rainbow chard, peppers and cucumbers are sprouting nearly as fast as the students’ scientific knowledge.

The Tower Garden, a product of the company Juice Plus, is beginning to flourish with its first round of produce – each student has a plant –- in the corner of teacher Amanda Barbour’s classroom. The project gives students a chance to try their green thumbs at indoor farming, as part of the district’s gifted and talented Parents, Educators and Kids = Success (PEAKS) program. They regularly measure and test the pH balance of their plants, keeping track of their data and observations in journals on Google Docs.

The Tower Garden provides a hands-on way to learn fifth-grade science standards
The Tower Garden provides a hands-on way to learn fifth-grade science standards

Their end goal is to support a claim based on fifth-grade science standards: “I can support an argument that plants get materials they need for growth primarily through air and water.”

The vertical system grows plants sans soil with an aeroponics system, an advanced form of hydroponics. Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment rather than soil. Research shows the method uses less space, less water and yields more food faster than traditional farming, making it perfect for urban farming.

“It’s a new experience to grow a plant without water,” said fifth-grader Sam Nguyen.

Nathan Moxey shared his journal of reflections and observations about his growing pepper plant. He’s working to form a conclusion for the question, “If you farm for a living, is it better to use a Tower Garden for growing?”

Students worked to raise money for the Tower Garden
Students worked to raise money for the Tower Garden

Students Made it Happen

Students visited Koetsier’s Greenhouse, in Grand Rapids Township, to learn about different farming methods. They began raising money in September to fund their project.

“From day one, the kids were in on how we were going to approach this,” said Barbour, who teaches fifth-grade PEAKS classes with Jennifer Tidd. “The students researched everything.”

They studied the technology the tower uses, created a business plan and raised the $2,200 through a Go Fund Me page and a Kentwood Education Association grant.

The harvest will conclude with “salad day,” when students will enjoy the fruits – or veggies – of their labor.

“That’s going to be really fun because we can all get together and eat the salad,” said Oummu Kabba. Added her classmate Sam, “Our work will have finally paid off!”

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Time-Lapse of Tower Garden

News Segment on Vertical Farming

PEAKS Program

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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