115 Amesbury Line Road
Haverhill, MA 01830
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018
Contact: Jessica Sacco
Email: [email protected]
Whittier Tech Students Use Tower Gardens to Grow Fresh Vegetables for School Restaurant
HAVERHILL — Whittier Tech students can now access fresh, farm-to-table vegetables — and get a firsthand look at plant growing cycles — without leaving their biology classroom, thanks to three tower gardens that were installed in the fall.
The state-of-the-art, aeroponic growing systems are giving students in biology classes live experience with an ecosystem and the elements associated with plant cycles. They’re also allowing students in Whittier’s culinary arts program to harvest fresh vegetables and herbs to use in their cooking.
The systems, sold by Juice Plus+, grow seeds in pseudo soil packs called rock wool. Water gets pumped from a 20-gallon tank through tubes to the top of the tower every 45 minutes, which then trickles down like a waterfall showering the roots. They are lined with fluorescent lights and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous are added regularly.
Culinary arts students have already harvested basil for use in the school restaurant, The Poet’s Inn, and there will soon be more. Along with the tomatoes and cucumbers, the leafy, mixed greens of Swiss chard and two types of kale are overflowing from the gardens.
Next year, students will be responsible for the care of the plants and will experiment with different lighting and nutrient levels. Teachers are also in the process of re-writing the biology curriculum to better incorporate the gardens, which could have an impact on students’ lives even beyond the classroom.
“We teach the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles and their importance for ecosystems, and it all starts with the plants,” Science Teacher Ryan Burke said. “Several students said they had never heard of basil, kale or Swiss chard, so the gardens could be a launching point for healthier eating habits, too.”
The first seeds were planted prior to Thanksgiving, and students harvested their first yield less than a month later.
“It’s cool to see how fast they grow,” freshman Tacia Mansell, of Haverhill, said of the leafy greens. “They are growing without dirt and with no sunlight. A couple of weeks ago there was nothing, and now this.”
Whittier ultimately hopes to add six more growing towers to its collection and store them in its greenhouse, which is currently being refurbished by students in the masonry, carpentry and electrical programs.
According to Juice Plus+, the garden towers are popular among city residents who have limited space for gardening because they take up 90 percent less space and water than a conventional garden.