Sustainable Food Production
The EcoTeam and classes participating in the project are aiming to start up grow towers in the science class to grow produce to donate to the food bank. Initially, the plan is to start by growing lettuce varieties that will mature in a short period of time (50 to 60 days) that could be donated to the food bank. The grow towers will be located in two classrooms and will provide a hands-on learning opportunity for two classes.
The EcoTeam and classes are also hoping to germinate plants – lettuces again and herbs that are low maintenance to grow in the garden wall that is located in the cafeteria. Again the produce would be donated to the local food bank and any herbs could be used by the culinary program at the school and to be used for meals prepared for donation to the food bank.
Our EcoTeam began establishing an outdoor garden the previous school year and the plan is to continue to expand the garden – by adding more plants and a rain barrel/irrigation watering system. Produce would be utilized by the hospitality program at the school and donated to the food bank.
The grade 11 environmental science class worked with one of our construction classes to have a 170L rain barrel built by students. Once the rain barrel was built, the environmental science class installed the rain barrel adjacent to a portable near our veggie garden. The garden has a total of 8 areas, and the rain barrel will provide water to a total garden area of 144 square feet.
Installing the rain barrel is an environmentally friendly and sustainable way to provide water to our vegetable garden. Not only will it decrease the use of water from our municipal water system, but rainwater contains more nitrogen and has a more suitable pH level than municipal water.
Students in our locally developed grade 9 science class germinated a variety of lettuces with the intent of donating the produce to our local food bank. The class had success with the germination of the seeds but had limited success with the growth of the plants by the project deadline. We are hoping that the last month of school will provide enough time for the lettuce to fully grow and allow for the donation of the grown produce to the food bank.
It is estimated, with the 30 plants currently growing and an average lettuce head weight of 300g, that a total of 9kg of lettuce will be grown in the vertical garden wall.
Growing plants on a vertical garden wall is a sustainable way of creating produce. It uses both less space and less water and can also help naturally regulate the temperature inside our school building. Since this is grown inside, our produce can be used and replenished throughout the winter. This can even reduce potential pollution from transporting produce from stores to our school. This student-run initiative is good for the environment and a viable way to create produce.
A total of 80 students in 4 science classes also germinated 225 tomato seeds. The intent of the germination was to participate in the Tomatosphere project. When the plants germinated, students were able to take the plants home to grow over the summer. The additional 140 plants that remained were donated to the food bank. The variety of seeds used in Tomatosphere is plum tomatoes which produce on average 1.5 to 2 kg of tomatoes per plant. With the 225 plants germinated, it could be expected that upwards of 450 kg total tomatoes will be produced as part of this project.
At total of 171 students in 10 classes and the environmental science class participated in the grow tower project.
For the grow tower, students in the environmental science class germinated cabbage, romaine, red leaf lettuce, and great lakes lettuce. Once the germinated seeds had grown for 2 weeks, they were installed in the grow tower. The tower was rotated between 3 classrooms, with students in each respective classroom caring for it, adding nutrients and water as needed. Maintaining the tower also included regular checks of the pH of the solution.
Like the garden wall, the produce in the grow tower was not fully grown and could not be harvested by the end of the project. It is estimated that the four cabbage will provide 3 kg of produce, and the lettuce will provide 7.2 kg.
There are many benefits of a grow tower for our school. Firstly, it allows us to grow fresh vegetables all year round. Using these vegetables in our cooking classes reduces our carbon footprint because we are reducing the amount of produce we have to buy during the winter, which typically would be grown in other countries (with warmer climates), and then shipped here in vehicles, which contributes a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the grow tower uses up to 90% less water than the typical agricultural methods of today. Finally, this is a very sustainable option for our school because the grow tower eliminates the threat of weeds, meaning that we don’t have to disturb the wildlife surrounding the produce we grow.
The outdoor veggie gardens were established at Westside in the spring of 2022. At that time, rhubarb, chives, raspberry, asparagus, strawberry and potatoes were planted.
This spring, additional rhubarb were planted. As the rhubarb and asparagus are still maturing, harvest from them is not possible at this point. The strawberry and raspberries are everberries and can be harvested throughout the spring and summer.
The hospitality program at Westside has also provided financially for the vegetable garden. With LSF money and the hospitality program, we were able to plant garlic in two of the 8 beds. We also planted carrots, radishes, spinach, arugula and green onions. It is estimated that a total of 10 kg of garlic, 10 kg of carrots, 5 kg of radish, 5 kg of arugula, 2.5 kg of spinach and 2.5 kg of green onions will be harvested from the gardens over this growing season.
Reflection & Celebration
Our budget money ran out with the rain barrel installation, so we were unable to install the planned irrigation system. We have set this as a goal to work on for the upcoming school year.
The plan for the upcoming school year is to plant seeds directly into the garden wall during the first week of school instead of germinating them in peat pellets first. We are hoping that by directly planting in the garden wall in the cafeteria, we will be able to produce a greater volume of produce. The lettuce planted this spring was spread apart and didn’t utilize the space effectively. Ideally, the garden wall pockets would be full of herbs and lettuce to maximize the food produced. For the 2023/2024 school year, interested classes will again be planting tomato seeds in the spring semester as part of the Tomatosphere project.
Our plan moving forward for the 2023/2024 school year is to get our second grow tower operating. The plan is to germinate seeds in the rock wool pellets during the second week of August so that the seeds will be ready to install in the grow tower the first week of September. The plan is to try peppers, tomatoes, basil, and lettuce (specifically arugula) in the grow towers for the fall.
In the spring of 2024, we can start harvesting the asparagus and rhubarb that were planted last year.