NORWALK, Conn. – Students at Norwalk’s Jefferson Magnet School have a new tool to help them learn about botany, healthy eating and collaborative work. Norwalk Grows celebrated the opening of a new indoor hydroponic garden in the school Friday.
Norwalk Grows has helped to install outdoor gardens at 11 schools across Norwalk, including Jefferson. The program, a partnership between the Norwalk Children’s Foundation and the Norwalk Public Schools, has also launched a student Farmers Market at Naramake School, a café using homegrown ingredients at Norwalk High, and after-school gardening programs.
The new hydroponic gardens will allow Jefferson students to do their hands-on work of tending the gardens in the winter months. Students check the dirt-free system daily to make sure the water flowing through it has the proper pH level and mineral content to stay growing, and they use the data they collect in math classes for real-world practice.
“The main growing season is June, July and August, when the kids aren’t in class,” said Phil Steinberg of Green Up. “This you can do all year round.”
Green Up, a Stamford-based company specializing in hydroponic systems, green houses, and other growing methods, has installed two hydroponic systems in Jefferson. On the first floor is a “living wall” of decorative plants on an automatic system.
But students will do most of their work on the edible garden, which is currently producing lettuce, broccoli, basil, green beans and Swiss chard. Jefferson’s kids will use their crops in cooking classes as part of Project L.E.A.N., a collaborative effort among Pepperidge Farm, Norwalk Hospital, the Norwalk Health Department and Jefferson School designed to teach students healthy eating habits.
“Now we’re really looking to connect some of the growing we do outside to the growing we do inside, and really changing the way that our students take care of themselves and make sure that they’re healthy,” Jefferson Principal John Reynolds said.
Students from second through fifth grade spend class time in the gardens. Each grade level has a different task: fifth-graders maintain the garden, fourth-graders harvest the vegetables, and second- through third-graders inspect the gardens to see how they work.
“We’re trying to make it a real group effort,” said Cindy Sherlock of Norwalk Hospital, who has been working on Project L.E.A.N. in Jefferson. “I think it’s really good all the way around. They’re really learning about how we can grow indoors in a small space and make a lot of product.”