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Barren Co. elementary students "tower" their way to healthier eating habits, hands-on lessons about how food makes it from seeds to the dinner table...

Daily Times, Glasgow, Sept. 26, 2014

EES gets new tower garden
Plants will be grown hydroponically

Students in the Eastern Elementary School Wellness Club helped coordinators and teachers assemble another hydroponic tower garden on Thursday to accompany the one they already have at their school.

It all began with a lesson from fourth-grade teacher Cathy Bishop, who talked with the students about the club, which focuses on healthy habits in kids.

She asked the students if they went home throughout the week and talked with their parents about any of the healthy habits they had been discussing. The students had a goal to try to reach for the week – not to drink any sodas, and a few of the students succeeded. She talked about the healthy eating habits they have been discussing in the club.

“We need to try to make healthy choices, and try to take care of our bodies the best we can because this is the only body we get,” she said. “The habits we start today are going to make a difference for the way our body feels a long time down the road from now. Because you want to feel great and you want to be able to do everything that you want to do, right?”

Getting plenty of sleep, drinking plenty of water, making good food choices, exercising and little amounts of screen time were among the choices she listed.

Then she spoke with the students about lessons they have been learning in school on water and plant cycles, and explained to them how the tower garden works before taking them outside to see the actual garden they already had in place at the school.

According to dietitian Jennifer Turner, who assisted the students with planting seeds and building the tower garden, research shows that if kids have a hand in growing and making food, they are more likely to try it.

Tower gardens are vertical systems that grow food hydroponically with aeroponics – a process for growing food in an air and water environment, Turner said.

The seeds are planted in rock wool, a growing material made of various rocks and sediments, which acts as the dirt. Once the seeds are put in the rock wool, vermiculite is placed on top of them, and they are watered. While the seeds germinate, the rock wool pods are placed in a container that continually has a little water in the bottom of it.

It’s important that the rock wool never dries out, and continues to be wet, Turner said.

Once the plants begin to grow, they are placed in the little pods on the side of the tower garden. The tower garden at EES stands about 6 feet tall. At the base of the tower is a bowl that holds water, and tubing inside of the cylinder allows the water to travel up and water the plants that are placed in the little pods on the sides of the “tower.”

Throughout the day, the system works on a timer; for 15 minutes the water flows up to the plants, and for 15 minutes it stops.

CheyAnne Fant, food services director for Barren County Schools, explained this goes along with the sustainability and healthy eating habits they have been trying to teach throughout the school district.

She noted the 95210 healthy habit, that challenges students to get nine hours of sleep, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, limit screen time to two hours a day, one hour of physical activity a day and zero sugaradded beverages.

Will Compton, the principal at EES, said that he was very happy to have the tower garden and the healthy habit initiatives at the school. “We want to help kids learn about science and how to grow things,” he said. “Eventually we want to move what we are growing from the tower garden into our cafeteria so the students can eat fresh fruits and vegetables they had a hand in growing.”

Fant added that in the future the district hopes to use the cilantro they are growing in the tower gardens to season the salsa that is served with school lunches.

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