Christina Lake Elementary School embarked on introducing Tower Gardens to the school community in the spring of 2015. Our idea was to grow vegetables using Tower Garden Growing Systems, and use the vegetables to create a free salad bar program for all students.
For those of you not familiar with the Tower Garden Growing System, these towers use aeroponic technology to simultaneously grow up to 28 different plants. The aeroponic system uses a mist environment to transmit nutrients to the plants, and thus do not require soil. The tower houses a nutrient solution in a 20-gallon tank at the base. A low wattage pump is used to pump the nutrient solution up the tower and over the roots of plants. In addition, research shows that plants are expected to grow 50% faster than when grown in soil. This seemed like a low maintenance, high yield, option for our small school to grow our own vegetables. In addition, the Tower Garden Growing Systems would allow us to grow food all year round!
With the funding support from Farm to School BC, Christina Lake Elementary was able to purchase three Tower Garden Growing Systems in the spring of 2015. Big White Community School also purchased two Tower Gardens with the support of the Parent Advisory Council. The school communities at both schools were very supportive of the project right from the onset which has been instrumental to the success of our project.
In the fall of 2015, we formed Tower Garden Leadership Teams of sixteen students at Christina Lake Elementary and twelve students at Big White Community School. The Leadership Teams are responsible for weekly maintenance of the towers, which includes adding water, checking and balancing the pH, checking the lights and replacing harvested plants. Students are also responsible for selecting what kinds of vegetables to grow and planting the seeds, which were donated by one of the local nurseries. The involvement of all students has been very high since the beginning of the initiative. It is a regular sight to see students of all ages come to school in the morning and go to check on how things are growing in the Tower Gardens.
So far we have grown a variety of lettuces, kale, spinach and herbs. There has never been a shortage of greens! Harvesting is done once per week. Students from each classroom come to the Tower Gardens and harvest the vegetables just before lunch hour. At Christina Lake Elementary, classroom teachers go around the classroom while students are eating their lunch and students get to pick their own ingredients for their salads. At Big White Community School, the salad is offered as part of the hot lunch program. Some students like to eat the salad just as it is, and some like to add a little salad dressing. Our next step is to try to grow tomatoes and cucumbers in our Tower Gardens.
One of the challenges so far has been the cleaning of the Tower Gardens. The towers need to be cleaned our periodically, and students do require adult help with that. However, fortunately for our school, parent, teacher and administrator involvement have been very helpful with this. Also, there is on-going expense of maintaining the Tower Gardens. The lights need to be replaced about once per year and the same goes for the tower tonic solution. This is something to consider for other schools who wish to have Tower Gardens.
Overall we are very proud of our Tower Garden Salad Bar Program. It has provided us with a low maintenance, high yield method of growing our own food. Our Tower Gardens have provided opportunities for our students to learn about growing food, a healthy diet, and the plant life cycle. We are very proud that this Tower Garden Project did not turn out to be a one-off project; rather, it has become part of our school culture. The support and participation from the school community has been wonderful, and we believe our program will be successfully running many years from now!