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IRVING SCHOLARS LEARNING ABOUT HYDROPONICS

 A local farmer teachers students about harvesting plants next to a hydroponic towerThe science behind hydroponics, and with it the tasty joy that comes with growing one’s own healthy food, is capturing the attention of the Irving Elementary Bullpups.

Receipt of a Farm to School Grant from the Colorado Department of Education enabled two hydroponic grow towers to be stationed inside Irving’s cafeteria. 

Hydroponics is a type of horticulture that involves growing plants and crops without soil, by using mineral nutrient solutions in an aqueous solvent.

After less than a month, the towers went from being bare to green and lush, with a variety of vegetables and herbs now at full bloom.

“The goal of this project is to introduce the students to hydroponic vegetable growing, in real life, and develop programming specific to the towers that all students and staff can benefit from,” said Dana Elkins Greene, the District’s Director of Nutrition Services who secured the grant. “The purpose of setting up these towers in the cafeteria is to increase the amount of local fresh food students are getting during school meals, but also demonstrate for students the life cycle of the vegetables, and the growing technology overall.”

With training provided by the Pueblo Food Project, and with ongoing support from Farmer Frank in conjunction with D60 Nutrition Services, the Bullpups recently received the opportunity to “taste test” the delicacies growing on the towers, which include lettuce, cherry tomatoes, spinach, peppermint, cilantro, sugar snap peas, kale, mint, bok choy, alpine berries and bunching onions.

“We want the children to learn about nutrition, as well as where food comes from,” Farmer Frank explained. “In hydroponics, you don’t need soil to grow but you do need water, nutrients, light, and air.”

The Bullpups, he added, have taken a keen interest in the green growth taking place inside the school cafeteria.A young student takes a taste of a spinach leaf grown from the school's hydroponic tower

“Every time they come by the towers, they look at it and want to engage with it,” Farmer Frank said. “In fact, we encourage that interaction as part of the education process.” 

The “taste test” was eagerly embraced by fifth-grade Bullpups. With Farmer Frank explaining each food item, and what type of flavor one could expect, the Irving junior farmers reveled in the experience, especially when it came to sampling an item never before on their young taste buds.

“This is tangy,” one Bullpup was heard to say after a sampling. “But I like it.”

Sustainability is another important lesson being imparted to the Bullpups of Irving.

“We learned from the Pueblo Food Project that in Pueblo, one in four children go hungry,” said Megan Lawson, Innovation Coach at Irving. “So it’s important to teach the kids how we can grow things that are accessible.”

Added Director Elkins Greene, “Studies show that students are more likely to try a new food if they participate in growing or preparing that food.”

As the project progresses, the Pueblo Food Project will provide Irving with recipes, nutrition facts, and other fun activities for the students to engage with.

“The Pueblo Food Project has a strategic priority of increasing food, farming, and nutrition education for K-12 students throughout Pueblo County and will be a key community partner for this project,” added Director Elkins Greene.