Environmental sciences teacher Janet Gordon has been working on a variety of “green” projects at Tewksbury Memorial High School recently. Instrumental in the installation of a raised bed and accessible garden in one of the school’s courtyards, Gordon is now excited about a new indoor growing system at TMHS which is being used by the L.E.A.P. program to expand the educational experience for students and help them learn where their food comes from and how to grow it.
Thanks to the efforts of Gordon, L.E.A.P. instructor Patrick Galligan, and Food Services director Deb Mugford, TMHS started using an indoor terraponic gardening system to grow several varieties of salad greens this school year. The L.E.A.P. program helps students with special abilities, who have graduated, continue to acquire life skills in a school setting. The students have enjoyed learning how to manage the growing system and have delighted in contributing freshly cut salad greens to the school lunch program, according to Gordon. Gordon herself uses the outdoor raised bed garden to teach about sustainable agriculture in her environmental Science course and uses the garden seasonally “to introduce no-till, organic gardening to students as well as measuring nutrient content in the soil” she said.
Plants in the gardening system are grown in an organic, nutrient-rich compostable soil and can be cut to harvest several times before re-seeding is necessary. A racking system holds the seedlings which are “fed” by artificial light and watered by the students who follow detailed instructions.
Last fall, Mugford coordinated with Massachusetts-based EvanLEE Organics and used food service funds to purchase the first growing system for the school. Galligan has been piloting the program with his students at TMHS with great success. Harvests collected since the system was installed have added to the supply of fresh salad greens offered in the school cafeteria. According to Mugford, “This is a great opportunity for TMHS to grow some of their very own food and the Food and Nutrition Services team is thrilled to offer our students these delicious and fresh salads in the lunch program”. Gordon said, “the greens have high nutritional value as they are grown in organic soil without pesticides and because they are freshly harvested when served”.
Students have successfully re-seeded as well, using commonly available seeds for a variety of tasty leafy greens. Similar programs have sprouted in Dracut and Billerica, capitalizing on the momentum of the farm-to-table movement and a desire to provide nutritious, local produce in schools.
It is hoped that an expanded indoor gardening project in the future might complement the seasonal outdoor vegetable garden on campus and allow TMHS to contribute fresh produce year-round to the Tewksbury Community Pantry. Efforts are currently underway to identify funding sources for the purchase of additional growing racks to expand the program for students in L.E.A.P. and other academic programs, such as the Environmental Science classes. Gordon is in the process of searching for grants to help fund an expansion of the indoor gardening program and would welcome business and community support.