Local Students Learn to Grow Fresh Food in Classrooms

Some local schools are receiving free gardens for the classroom.

A new trend of hydroponic gardening is sprouting at many local schools. “Hydro” is the Ancient Greek word for water, and “ponos” means work. In hydroponic gardening, the water does the work—in this case, the work of delivering nutrients to plant roots. This type of indoor gardening is ideal for Chicago schools that cannot grow plants outside in Chicago winter or during other unpredictable seasons.

Thanks to Chicago-based Rise Gardens, a leading maker of hydroponic indoor garden systems, dozens of local schools are receiving free gardens for the classroom so students K-12 can participate in hands-on, experiential learning, with an English and Spanish curriculum that focuses on growing food, nutrition, sustainability and ecology.  

Rise Gardens uses advanced technology to automate the gardens, watering and LED lights while also incorporating an app to guide teachers and students on when to trim, harvest, transplant and more.

Jaclyn Fierro, director of development for Erie Elementary Charter School, says her teachers have integrated the indoor gardens into STEM, nutrition and wellness lessons for students. The program has been so successful, she’s applied for grants to purchase additional units. 

“The gardens have allowed students to have hands-on interactions with agriculture and gardening, learning everything from caring for plants and the consequences of not tending a garden to discussing more conscious ways of eating and the impact of food systems on climate change,” says Fierro. “It also is important socially and emotionally as both teachers and students care for the garden, and work together as a team to learn about how gardens function within a community.”

The hydroponic gardens, which are about the size of a bookshelf, are sleek and modern, are modular and specially designed to fit easily into the corner of a classroom. Within days, students can see various crops come to life. Schools have experimented with microgreens, sugar snap peas, strawberries, lettuce, beets, miniature broccoli and cauliflower, and more.

“Research shows that if kids are involved are growing food, they get really excited about it, and are more willing to want to eat it,” says Rise Gardens founder and CEO Hank Adams, who developed the system because he wanted his three teenage boys to eat better as well as have a lasting impact on the food supply.

“Our food system is broken. It provides us with cheap calories and poor-quality foods. That leads to mental and nutritional health issues,” says Adams. “I thought if I could figure out how to grow food more locally and sustainably, it would bring better nutrition to kids.”

Annette Lesak, middle and upper school library and information specialist at Francis W. Parker School, said the use of the hydroponic gardens in the school piqued student interest and excitement about plants, encouraged scientific thinking, and empowered students to take care of something living.

“The Rise Garden is a perfect example that learning by doing is the most salient way for students to gain knowledge and skill. By being in charge of monitoring the Rise Garden and caring for the plants, students achieve independence and a sense of self-pride,” she said.

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  1. Hi Lori,
    What an amazing idea to give those students such an opportunity to put their hands into real work, being a part of something extraordinary like growing a real plant, learning about all those important subjects of the modern world , becoming aware of the nutrition fact, ecology, wellness, and simply being so proud and going to school with excitement how my plant looks today! I remember, long time ago, we even worked around the school, taking care of the flowers and plants , planting and gardening, and we had so much fun together with our teachers, and working together as one group, having so much fun. And we were sooo proud , and competing which class had better results!
    And, we should remember that hard work and good old values form the best characters! We shouldn’t be afraid to put kids to work, real work, so they can learn the real values in life with own experience!!!
    We should promote gardening for kids from spring to autumn, and even during winter home like in these classrooms. Lori, find someone to develop a kiddy gardening kit with an exact recipe on how, what, where to grow , so every kid could do it without any knowledge.
    Fantastic idea! Thank you Lori for this article, again, I believe in teaching the most important value in the old, very organic way. Give them an opportunity to be proud!


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