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News Item: Homepage


A group of Olive Elementary School fifth graders is growing some of their own food, right in their classroom.


They’re doing it with aeroponics, a way of growing plants in which the roots hang suspended in air while a solution of nutrients is sprayed on them in the form of a fine mist.


“It’s a system that grows plants with 90 percent less water,” explained student Jacqueline Jacobo.


“It grows faster than a normal garden,” Jacqueline said.


Pointing to some plants that were about to be harvested for salads, Jacqueline said, “These were planted three weeks ago and they’re already ready.”


The fifth graders’ aeroponics project won the Bright Idea Award for an elementary school at the San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering in early March at Petco Park.


The Olive Elementary fifth graders also were recognized with a special proclamation in March by the San Diego City Council.


Jacqueline and her classmates have been growing butter lettuce, kale, basil and arugula in four towers, each of which is about 6-feet-tall.


They plan to expand their crop to include edible flowers, rainbow colored chard, and bok choy, a Chinese cabbage.


Water treated with nutrients is stored in a basin at the foot of each tower, and the solution is pumped through the tower and onto the plants.


Special lights that mimic sunlight are aligned along the edge of the towers to help the plants grow.


Twice a week, the students take turns adding nutrients to the water and testing the pH level, which in chemistry is a numeric scale ranging from one to 10 used to specify the acid or base level of water solutions. PH stands for power of hydrogen, a measurement of hydrogen ion concentration.


For the plants to thrive, the pH level in the towers should be between 5.5 and six, said student Clarissa Arcos.


The aeroponic project grew out of a class discussion of malnutrition and what they could do about it, said fifth grade teacher Myrna Gonzalez.


As part of that, the students talked about how they could grow more vegetables using less water because of the state-wide drought.


A teacher in a neighboring classroom had an aeroponic tower of her own, which she brought into her classroom to show her students, Gonzalez said.


When the fifth graders saw the tower, they decided to expand on it as their class project.


With the help of grants, the students wound up with four towers in their class.


Each tower with the lights cost about $1,000, said Lindsey Richardson, a field energy consultant for Solar City and classroom volunteer who helps the students with the aeroponics project.


If their project is successful, the fifth graders hope to serve their produce in the school cafeteria and eventually start a farmer’s market on campus.


“It helps us learn how to eat healthy and stay healthy,” said student Dominic Tejeda.


Principal Stephanie Vasquez said the aeroponics project has proven so successful that she’d like to expand it to other classrooms.


“It’s been fun, experimenting with the plants just to see how they thrive,” Vasquez said. “We’re all learning.”


Olive Elementary also has a traditional outdoor garden, but Vasquez said it takes up more room, uses far more water than the aeroponics.


“Growing vertically is proving to be a great option,” Vasquez said.


If the plan for a campus farmer’s marker works out, Clarissa said any money the students earn from it could go to buy more aeroponic towers for other classes at Olive and even for other schools in the Vista Unified School District.


“We could donate a tower garden to each school with the money we make,” Clarissa said.


Classmate Angel Mendoza is hoping other kids take to aeroponic farming as eagerly as his class did.


“If a lot of schools do this, it will really help the environment because it uses 90 percent less water,” Angel said.


Lindsey Richardson and student Alana Cruz harvesting lettuce.


Alana Cruz and Alejandro Ruiz harvesting lettuce.


Posted by: Dave Palmer, District Associate, Vista Unified School District Published:5/2/16
Audience: Homepage and Homepage