Cultivating a love for food and science
If you have ever raised young children, you know how hard it can be to get them to try new foods, especially vegetables. Through the Bountiful Burleson program, children at Jack Taylor Elementary are not only trying new foods, they are growing their own vegetables and herbs in garden towers.
Students are growing a variety of vegetables that include carrots, radish, lettuce, spinach, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, jalapeños and beans. Herbs including cilantro, sage, basil, paprika, rosemary, parsley and chives are also grown in the towers.
Taylor Principal Ryan Timm said the pilot program started in one classroom but has quickly garnered attention with other teachers.“The interest and the want for it is all throughout the building. I foresee a lot more teachers being involved next year,” Timm said. “It has really taken off.”
Having access to fresh vegetables makes the monotony of lunch a little more exciting. On the menu last week was spaghetti topped with freshly chopped basil, which gives the sauce a more distinct flavor.
It also gives the children the opportunity to try more foods, said Emily Jones, child nutrition director for BISD.
“This gives them the opportunity to see things they haven’t tried before,” she said. “How many second graders know what basil or rosemary looks like? It also gives them the opportunity to see how to take care of these things so they can go home and ask their parents to make those dishes.”
To date, students have tried pico de gallo with fresh cilantro, cilantro-chive veggie dip and spaghetti sauce topped with fresh basil.
Adalee Wilson said her favorite part about the garden towers is learning about the plants and then eating what she has grown.
“It’s pretty fun to do experiments like this,” she said. “One of my favorite things to do is garden because my mom likes to garden so we do this at home, too.”
Another student said she liked the spaghetti sauce so much she was going to ask her mother to make it soon. Each week after students try the food, an anonymous survey is passed out for students to express what they liked or disliked about that week’s selection.
The project was started and is being led by Burleson High School senior Rebecca Bender Jutzi, who got the project approved by the Girl Scout Gold Award Project and is a candidate for the award.
Jutzi started the project because she thought other people might want to learn how to grow food this way in other parts of the world.
“I wanted to find a sustainable but productive way to grow vegetables in a confined area,” she said. “I’m very interested in organic products and it can be difficult to find organic vegetables in an urban setting.”
Jutzi was aware of the impact that this project could have on the far reaches of the world and is hoping the project will spread to the Girl Scouts branches in Africa.
“Some countries are facing water issues and this method of growing vegetables uses less water than the conventional method of growing food,” Jutzi said. “I wanted to teach the kids how to grow their own produce and ingredients starting at a young age, that way if they want to start their own garden when they are older they already know how to do it.”
The garden towers are completely self-contained and conserve water and light. Additionally, all of the food grown in the towers are non-GMO and pesticide free. The garden towers sit under artificial light, which uses a minute amount of energy and is fertilized by composting table scraps.
Dr. Leslie Bender Jutzi, BISD chief academic innovation officer hopes that the garden tower experience will spark interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industries.
“Students who grow their own food in a sustainable manner by recycling food scraps and conserving water realize that they are having a positive impact on their environment, the community and the planet,” Jutzi said. “They begin to explore other foods and growing techniques. As BISD, student families and our community nurture these important interests, they will help students prepare the foundation necessary for successful careers in agriculture, biology, horticulture, nutrition and other STEM industries.”