Standing at a little over 5 feet tall and 2.5 feet wide, hydroponic tower gardens add a touch of green to Foxborough Public Schools and most importantly, grow fresh vegetables for students to eat year-round. As Janice Watt, the School Nutrition Director at Foxborough said, “It doesn’t get any more local than growing food right in our kitchens.”
Hydroponic Tower with growing lettuce and accompanying trellis to vertically grow cucumbers.
The gardens are spearheaded by Taylor Elementary School’s Kitchen Manager, Jane Rice, and operated by the entire Foxborough School nutrition team. Three of the schools; Ahern Middle School, Taylor Elementary School and Foxborough High School have towers in their schools’ kitchens and grow fresh lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes to serve in the lunchroom.
Initially, the vision for the school gardens was to have a greenhouse. However, the idea evolved into setting up hydroponic tower gardens to sustain a harvest throughout the school year. Jane manages check-ins with each of the three schools and starts the seeds indoors. She distributes the new seedlings to each of the schools after they harvest the fresh produce. She also trains the specific point person at each school to manage the towers which includes planting, harvesting and regular upkeep like checking the pH, feeding the plants and troubleshooting.
At Taylor Elementary School, the facilities department built a window for students to peek in to the kitchen and see what’s growing on the towers. Jane mentioned that special-education students often go to the window and find it to be very calming. Elementary School students do visit the kitchen and learn about the different parts of a plant, actually help plant new seeds and explore how the towers work.
Students can peer into the kitchen and see the hydroponic gardens while walking through the hallway.
During the summer months and school vacation weeks, Jane helps maintain the towers. Janice reiterated, “what school gardens need is a champion,” which is what they have found in Jane.
Janice also said some of the many benefits of using these towers are “…no dirt, no bugs and no weeding” which works well since they are stationed in the school kitchens and team members already have a lot on their plates throughout the day.
The towers aren’t a huge expense but are more of an upfront cost for schools. Towers are about $600 each and Foxborough Public Schools purchased several through grant funds.
Parents and the community have responded exceptionally well to the towers. Jane has also been recognized for her dedication and hard work for these tower gardens and was named one of Rainier Fruit’s Wholesome Heroes. When asked about her long-term vision, Jane said “If I had my way, we’d have a lot more. I would love to fill an entire empty classroom with the hydroponic towers.”
Jane Rice, school garden champion and Janice Watt, School Nutrition Director of Foxborough Public Schools in front of one of Taylor Elementary School’s hydroponic towers.
If you’re interested in expanding your school garden, whether it be a hydroponic tower or another vehicle for growing fresh produce, Framingham State University offers a 4-week online graduate course called “Growing Your School Garden.” Sign-up today and enjoy the convenience of online learning and help prepare for the school year ahead.
For additional resources on school gardening and “going green,” visit the JSI resource center.