School News Network: Growing Produce from the Ground, er, Air Up

Sammi Gearing checks her bib lettuce (Photo courtesy of School News Network)

By Erin Albanese

School News Network


Kentwood Public School’s 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.


Nathan Moxey keeps close track of his pepper plant. (Photo courtesy of School News Network)

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 (Photo courtesy of School News Network)

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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