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5 Reasons Teachers Want Tower Gardens in Their Classrooms

Tower gardens in Frank Zriniski’s MNO Grant Elementary School classroom.

If you are looking for hands-on learning opportunities for your students in life and physical sciences, literacy, math, or almost any other academic application, the Tower Garden by Juice Plus has a proven track record and is the most cost-effective school garden aligned to academic outcomes you can ever imagine.

Stephen Ritz, Trailblazer

Stephen Ritz

Stephen Ritz has been an inspiration for me for several years. He teaches in Public School 55 in New York City’s South Bronx, the poorest Congressional District in America. His big idea – pioneered in the Bronx where 37% of residents are food insecure – is to grow food indoors and outdoors all year round, using a new technology that is low cost and requires 90% less space and 90% less water.

A student maintaining a tower garden in a Bronx classroom.

 

The new school culture Ritz created provides a place where students want to work and learn, and local crime has fallen significantly. Targeted daily attendance is up from 40% to 93%, with the school achieving 100% passing rates on standardized tests, increased graduation rates, and improvements on standardized tests in reading and math. The program, which is fully integrated into the core curriculum, has also helped fund 2,200 student jobs. The National Association of Secondary School Principals has listed the program as one of the leading examples of service learning.

Ritz founded Green Bronx Machine, a non-profit organization, to increase the food production program to include Pre-K to college students, and involve the whole community by instilling a new outlook on life for youth in the neighborhood. Ritz was a Global Teacher Prize Finalist for 2015 — the Global Teacher Prize, was organized by the Varkey Foundation and UNESCO. It was created to spotlight the importance of educators and celebrate the effort of teachers around the world. It reoognizes the impacts of the very best teachers – not only on their students but on the communities of the students around them.

Planting seeds is the start of the hands-on process.

Stephen Ritz is an enthusiastic promoter of Tower Gardens and said they are “the most cost-effective school garden aligned to academic outcomes one can ever imagine. No wonder we’ve seen thousands of schools across the country take up Tower Gardening!

“I believe the art and science of growing vegetables aligned to content area instruction across all areas of education grows healthy students, healthy schools, and healthy communities. Food is a non-negotiable, and I believe that education and food education go hand-in-hand because children, first and foremost, will never be well-read if they’re not well fed.

Placing seedlings after planting is the next step in the tower growing process.

“Teaching children that input equals output really dictates how they treat themselves in the world. On a larger level… on a big macro level… food is non-negotiable. The ability to produce food in cities that is local, fresh, and connected to the community creates opportunities for better learning, better health, better wealth, better nutrition, and a more robust society.”

Ritz continued, “So I am thrilled to see the urban agriculture movement. I am proud to be an urban farmer. I’m proud that my students here in the South Bronx know exactly where their food comes from and the food goes from tower to table to tummy in 20 feet which is awesome! That’s what it’s all about.”

Reasons Teachers want towers in their classrooms

1. Engage your class with a hands-on, project-based learning experience that can improve school attendance and student engagement.

Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students learn by actively working on real-world projects. The projects are most successful when they are personally meaningful to the students, when the students make connections to their daily lives.

Some examples of project-based learning are:

Student maintaining an urban farm in a classroom.

Plant a School Garden. A school garden is a great opportunity for students of all ages to gain hands-on knowledge about growing food. Growing plants can be used in almost all areas of learning. In a science class, students can measure leaf growth, make adjustments to the ph of the water and work on math word problems around the dollar value of the plants.

Develop a Business Idea. Gardens can be used to develop a business by selling the plants to other students, parents and teachers. Some schools have developed a business plan that incorporates an active “farmers market” on a regular basis. Depending on the age of the class, they can even construct a storefront created with cardboard or lumber. 

2. Grow where the learning happens.

Because you can move the tower from a classroom, greenhouse, or laboratory to somewhere else, it creates a very flexible system. For example, a science teacher without a dedicated science classroom would be able to move the tower to different rooms during the day.

Maintaining towers and harvesting at West Wilson Middle School in Wilson County, TN.

LED indoor grow lights allows you to garden indoors all school year long, which means bodies (and minds) don’t have to leave your learning environment. With grow lights, the school garden does not need to be utilized only in the warm summer months.

3. Eliminate common growing pains.

Our aeroponic farming systems lower the likelihood of bugs and don’t use soil (so, no messy students!). When compared to soil gardening, tower gardens increase yields by as much as 30% while only using 10% of the water and space.

4. Elevate diets as well as minds. 

An urban farm in the Bronx with assistance from the Green Bronx Machine.

As students learn about the benefits of healthy eating, they also learn about saving money by growing some of their own food. The average American spends $45.25 per person on fruits and vegetables every month.

The students can help to make a positive impact on their family finances by helping their families grow their own produce. They learn that growing your own food at home gives you complete control over what and how much food ends up in your fridge or pantry each month, and that less produce has to be thrown away!

5. Support your existing curriculum with access to our free lesson plans.

One of Chicago’s public school teachers demonstrates Belding Elementary’s Tower Garden.

There are growing guides, FAQs and more on the Tower Garden website. It is packed with useful information for Pre-K through 7th grade and many of the lesson plans can be used as suggested guides for high school activities as well. Incorporating Tower Garden into your curriculum will be easy.

Supporting learning experiences means that any successful yield harvested from a Tower Garden likely didn’t happen through chance. Instead, it is a product of thinking ahead, gathering the proper supplies, and executing tasks according to a plan.

Walking children through the planning process can be challenging because there’s no instant gratification, but once they see the fruits of their labor (literally), they’ll understand why the planning was so important.

Our next blog will cover the ground-breaking activities and vision that Frank Zrinski has brought to the MNO Grant Elementary School in his 6th grade math and science classrooms. We’ll also look at how Zrinski was able to overcome the challenges of starting a new project during the pandemic lock down. We will also describe the participation of local organizations (Kiwanis, Rotary, Antioch Education Foundation and the Whole Foods Foundation) in obtaining grants to support this project.

3 tower gardens in Frank Zrinski’s MNO Grant Elementary School classroom.

I’m happy to answer specific questions from teachers about using tower gardens in the classroom. I also have several teachers who would be available to have conversations about their experiences as well. Reach out to me at info@gwenoneill.com.

 

Gwen O’Neill has been a gardener for over 40 years and has always been a passionate cook. Her own health challenges led her to experiencing a variety of healing modalities.

After finding that her health improved with eating more whole food and improving her nutrition using a real, whole food based supplement called Juice Plus, she committed to sharing this experience with others.

The Tower Garden by Juice Plus makes it easy to grow produce right outside your kitchen door.

Juice Plus real food!Bentley eggplant larger

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Virtual Tower Garden Party You Tube

 

 

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