Fort Riley Middle School has towering gardens taking over the sixth-grade science classroom… and it’s fantastic! It all started with a proposed mini-grant by Melissa Hall and Shannon Molt, among many other teachers. The mini-grant was awarded to Fort Riley Middle School for around $3,000.00 to fund the Tower Gardens, three sets of hydroponic gardening systems (towers, grow lights, starter kits). The hope was that each grade level would be able to produce their own food as well as eat it. Teachers were excited about the opportunity and wanted to begin immediately.
The Tower Gardens are able to be used in various curriculums, not just a science experiment but also a lesson in social studies. Learning to garden provides the students the opportunity to experience civic engagement and how to be part of the community. The hydroponic gardening can also be used as a tool with behavior issue students. It gives students the chance to have a job, a responsibility.
“Some students didn’t know that it’s not necessary to have soil to grow plants. This opens their world up to that. They can explore all these other innovative ideas.” – John Barstow of Fort Riley Middle School.
Of course, there will be plenty of science behind each lesson on hydroponic gardening. Hydroponics, by definition, is a method of growing plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution. The basic idea behind hydroponics is to allow the plant’s roots to come in direct contact with the nutrient solution, while also having access to oxygen. Plants tend to grow bigger and faster because they do not have to work as hard to obtain nutrients. A hydroponic system will also use less water than soil-based plants because the system is enclosed, which results in less evaporation. Believe it or not, hydroponics is better for the environment because it reduces waste and pollution from soil runoff.
Gardening and plant life is obviously a science experiment, but Fort Riley Middle School plans to take it a step further. Toward the end of the year, students will study health and nutrition. The plants will offer a way to study balanced nutrition and healthy ways to grow their own food. For some this is their first exposure to freshly grown produce.
“Today the lettuce is getting big, so they [students] said, “Hey can we try the lettuce?” and I said yes! So everyone broke off a piece. They ate it and said, “It’s so lettucy!” It was neat to have these eighth graders eat a raw vegetable and be excited about it! The idea that it’s being grown hydroponically; in world geography we talk about population and how we are going to sustain our food supply, well this is how it could be done.” – Helen Pugh, Fort Riley Middle School Teacher.
Fort Riley Middle School plans to continue the Tower Gardens year after year, growing the program for each student now and in the future. However, they are currently looking for ways to fund the project for next year as the mini-grant was a one-time disbursement. The students will need net pots, rock wool, and seeds to continue the project into the future. If you would like to contribute or know someone who would, please contact Shannon Molt at Fort Riley Middle School.
Photos: Seventh and eighth grade tower gardens from the beginning phases. Cover photo: Sixth-grade tower garden.