Grant introduces healthy eating education via indoor tower gardens

Teachers Katherine Ley and Jenni Frazier check for new growth

Two Appleview Elementary teachers are teaching their students about healthy lifestyles with help from indoor tower gardens that can be moved from classroom to classroom.

Fourth-grade teacher Katherine Ley and fifth-grade teacher Jenni Frazier received a grant last year from the Sparta Education Foundation to bring growing towers to the school.

“The SEF really made this dream become a reality,” said Frazier. “They graciously granted us not one, but three tower gardens.”

The tower gardens they purchased from Juice Plus are aeroponic — which means they use air or mist instead of soil — that allow for vegetable, fruit, herbs and flower growth indoors or out in relatively small spaces.

Though tower gardens can host over 159 different plants, the Appleview pair started in the fall with 28 different vegetables, including many edible greens as well as some herbs. Students are “learning what plants need to live as well as what it means to eat healthy,” Ley said.

The tower garden at Appleview Elementary

Garden on the Move

Since the gardens are mobile, they are moved around the school to allow different lessons for different grade levels. Some students help plant the seeds and tend to seedlings, while others track growth while also learning to chart and explore the data.

Students also learn about how the indoor gardens function. “We are trying to make a slideshow on how it (tower garden) works, said fifth-grader Chloe Ouzts.

While a group of fifth-graders from Ray Grennan’s class has “swooped in to take charge” of the process, Ley said, every Appleview student has had some exposure to the gardens this year.

Teachers have used them as well. For instance, curriculum calling for healthy lifestyles prompted physical education teacher Kevin Shuneson to teach some lessons with the gardens to every group in the school.

And retired Appleview teacher Sue Blackwell, who returns often to teach specialty science lessons, also uses the growing towers in her work.

A recent staff event featured produce from the towers, and “we sure did eat a lot of lettuce,” Frazier said. “But our goal is to have the kids eating more of what we grow as well.”

They also hope to offer events to share the students’ work with their families, to demonstrate how easy it is to grow healthy food.

Fifth-grader Kaitlyn Hazzard chooses one of the seedlings

“Buying produce and growing your own at home does not have to be costly,” Ley said.

Fifth-grader Kaitlyn Hazzard says that her family has a garden at home, with beans, herbs, snap peas, watermelon and strawberries

“But it’s fun to plant the seeds with our friends and come back every day to see how they have grown,” she said. “They grow so much faster here.”

Ley and Frazier said a curriculum packet made available with the tower gardens aligns with standards, and that they are working on how to share more of the produce with students and to expand the project to other schools in the district and community.

Their students already have some ideas about what’s next.

Chole is hoping they decide to grow some exotic plants. “I would like to see a fly trap,” she said.

Layla Wolford, also in fifth grade, would like something a bit more sweet.

“I think we should try blueberries,” she said.

CONNECT

Sparta Education Foundation

Juice Plus school gardens

Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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