Warren schools plant Tower Gardens

Meredith Miller, left, an A.S. Rhodes Elementary fourth grade teacher, and Niki Wymer, a member of the Front Royal Rotary Club, assemble the lights on a Tower Garden being installed at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School in Front Royal on Monday. The Front Royal Rotary Club donated $6,000 and Solodex donated $1,700 to fund the project, which allows the school to grow herbs and vegetables indoors. Nine of the units were purchased for Warren County schools. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County students will be helping to grow small school crops of vegetables and herbs using new Tower Gardens that will be set up at every school.

A Tower Garden uses aeroponics and nutrient solutions to grow plants in a tower without soil, and a specialty lighting rig allows those plants to grow indoors. The Front Royal Rotary Club recently contributed $6,000 to fitting each school with a Tower Garden and grow lights. Sodexo also donated money toward the division’s Tower Gardens.

Meredith Miller, a fourth grade teacher at A. S. Rhodes Elementary School, first brought one of her own Tower Gardens to use in her classroom last year. She said she initially bought them to grow herbs for making soap.

She led Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School principal Joey Waters and a few teachers in setting up the school’s new Tower Garden after school on Monday. Students will be able to start germinating seeds in the Tower Garden’s rockwool cubes and plant them in the tower once the seedlings sprout.

Waters said the tower will give students an opportunity for some hands-on learning about plant science, from how plants get nutrients to the pollination process.

Meredith Miller, left, an A.S. Rhodes Elementary fourth grade teacher, and Joey Waters, principal at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School, assemble the school's new Tower Garden. The unit, which was one of nine purchased for the school system, is used to grow herbs and vegetables indoors. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I think the kids are going to be so excited,” she said during setup of the tower.

Just outside the door from the Tower Garden, there’s six beds that were recently rebuilt in the school’s courtyard as part of one student’s Eagle Scout project. BB&T’s Lighthouse Project has aided in purchasing soil and gardening tools at the school and Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners have given the school a seed starting tray setup. Waters, a master gardener herself, said she’s tried to regenerate student interest in caring for plants with the help of volunteers, other master gardeners and arborists.

“Kids love going out there and planting, watering, picking the rocks out of the dirt,” she said. “To me, it’s a really good access – they need to see where their food comes from and get out there and see for themselves that they could do it.”

Waters also said she hopes Warren County High School students in agricultural classes could take advantage of the elementary school’s courtyard and help out the younger students.

“I think this will be a great jumping off point,” she said of the new Tower Garden.

Miller said her students enjoyed growing with her Tower Garden and she’d allow them to take nibbles from vegetables growing in class. Students brought their parents in after school for a salad party and presented a research project on one of the plants that the class was growing.

“You guys are going to love it, the kids are going to love it,” she told the Hilda J. Barbour teachers who stuck around after school to watch the setup process. “You’re going to see kids walk by and pick lettuce off of it and eat it.”

Superintendent Greg Drescher said the Tower Garden at the central office will be starting off with heirloom tomatoes, basil, bib lettuce and gourmet lettuce.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com.