BONNERS FERRY — Mount Hall Elementary School introduced students, specifically fifth graders, to a whole new way of thinking about plants and food, thanks to help from Mark and Teri Baird.
“Our daughter, who is a fifth grader here, did a science project growing celery in a tower garden, versus in a pot,” said Teri Baird about when her daughter attended a charter school in Georgia. “It was 30 percent quicker and she did a whole science fair project.”
The tower garden they used was an aeroponic vertical garden, standing six feet tall and growing the plants in an air or mist environment as opposed to soil. The system uses water and liquid nutrients increasing productivity and efficiency.
The Bairds purchased the system for themselves after seeing the benefits through their daughter’s science project.
“Our daughter would come home from school and say she was hungry and wanted a snack, and she would go pick off of the tower,” said Teri Baird. “We have year round fresh produce at home.”
Back in Georgia, the charter school their daughter attended, impressed with the lessons the students could learn from growing a variety of plants in the classroom, purchased the systems for their school.
When the Bairds moved to Boundary County, they wanted to spread the education, and approached Mount Hall Elementary School.
“The Bairds approached us with the option of using these tower gardens,” said fifth grade teacher Lyndsay Hart. “So many kids around here garden with their families at home. It’s not like we are in an inner city where they don’t know where food comes from, so I haven’t done a lot of gardening, but I thought that this alternative system would be a really neat way for them to see another way of growing food.”
Mount Hall Elementary School Principal Lisa Iverson readily agreed when the Bairds offered to loan the school their personal gardens.
“As soon as we brought it in, everybody was really excited about it. They started their seedlings and put them in,” said Teri Baird. “It’s pretty easy.”
Mount Hall Elementary staff and students have fallen in love with the gardens, from the bright growing lights and trickling waterfall sounds, to the lure of fresh vegetables tempting the children, and enticing them to try something new.
“I just think it is so cool as an alternative way of growing food,” said Hart. “To see it in the water with no soil, and to be eating from it through the winter. I think that would be really neat. It’s certainly been fun to watch. The kids have all enjoyed watching it. It brings a whole element of brightness to the cafeteria on a dark, dreary day.”
“It’s a fantastic learning tool. The kids get very excited about it, so it is easy to teach from. You can incorporate a pH lesson. You can incorporate all your lessons while you are growing and get kids excited about being healthy at the same time,” explained Teri Baird. “Kids who don’t eat salads are excited about eating the lettuce. It is just teaching kids at a young age to eat healthy, and to have a healthy lifestyle. They get excited and you can teach math and science; they have to take care of it, teaching responsibility, and there are a lot of lesson plans online.”
The student’s excitement about the project was apparent. They planted seeds and watched the garden explode into healthy, vibrants plants.
“The kids have helped checking the water and checking the pH. We did a little lesson about pH,” said Hart. “Then we have been watching them go crazy. It’s like a jungle. Tomorrow we are going to have a big salad party and they will get to eat the fruits of their labor.”
Fifth grader Alison Williams found benefits of aeroponics over the traditional gardening settings.
“I have grown tomatoes last year. All the deer ate the tomatoes before we harvested them,” said Williams. “Looking forward to trying these.”
Fifth grader Aiden Black is looking forward to eating the cucumbers, while fifth grader June Marshall is excited about the peas, even snacking on the pea shoots as they grow.
“Ever since I was little, I loved peas,” said Marshall, eagerly sharing her love for the pea shoots with her classmates.
“I like how we get to learn how to make plants for the kids who maybe don’t get to ever plant plants,” said fifth grader Sydney Beckle.
“It’s just fun to do,” said the Baird’s daughter, Allie Baird.
When asked how many of the students had snuck a piece of lettuce while the gardens were growing, the hands slowly raised, one by one, until almost every student had a hand in the air. The fact that they were excited to eat raw, fresh lettuce, with no frills or dressing, was evidence of the healthy lifestyle the gardens promote.
“I think she knows now how to eat healthier, how good it can taste if you grow it yourself, and how exciting it is to see it from seed to table,” said Teri Baird about her daughter. “I think she takes more interest in what she is eating.”
The Bairds would like to see this`program in more schools around the county.
“These towers are on loan, so we have been looking at potentially buying one, seeing if we can get that funding together,” explained Hart.
“This is the first,” said Mark Baird. “As excited as they were here, if that spreads throughout the district, we could get people who were interested in sponsoring or buying these for them, the light bulb might go off. The good thing is that this is year round. They can do this in the wintertime.”
Each of the six foot tall aeroponic gardens is comparable to a five foot by 20 foot traditional garden, and with the capability to grow throughout the long winter, offers many learning possibilities to students, while promoting a healthy lifestyle and appreciation for fresh vegetables and fruit.
For more information, contact Mark Baird at 623-693-9526 or TMBaird3gmail.com.