Nixa Elementary Students Use Innovative ‘Tower Garden’ Farm Technology to Help Christian County Food Pantry

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NIXA, Mo. (KY3) – A group of Nixa elementary school students help stock a Christian County food pantry using innovative farming technology.

On Wednesday, a group of fifth graders gathered in the cafeteria at the John Thomas School of Discovery for a salad meal.

Just salad.

But it was actually a taste test.

“Best lettuce I’ve ever had,” said one student.

But maybe those excellent reviews were so positive because this lettuce was grown by the students themselves.

“Today, while we were enjoying the lettuce, a little child came up and said, ‘I grew this! I did it! I am the father! said Dr. Nicole McCauley, founder of the McCauley Foundation.

In a greenhouse behind the school, students grew lettuce using tower gardens with the help and support of the nonprofit McCauley Foundation, which creates agricultural ecosystems.

These tower gardens are long tube-shaped cylinders over six feet tall with holes in the side for seeds to be placed and a circular base at the bottom that holds water. Tower gardens use 98% less water than traditional agriculture and take up 90% less space and are all done without using land. The nutrients are in the water.

“It’s something that was invented for NASA and that’s how they started growing things on the space station,” McCauley explained. “There are 20 gallons of water and minerals in the base and there is a pump at the bottom that brings the water up to the center (of the tower) and then rains down on the roots. It goes from sowing to harvesting in three weeks You can grow anything that grows above ground and is not a woody stem.

And there are also other growing innovations.

“In our classroom we have aquaponics which is adding fish to anything that grows,” said Joe Shaughnessy, JTSD STEAM educator. “Nutrients (for plant life) come from fish.”

Each of the tower gardens can produce enough food for 250 people, and the school donates its current and future produce to the county food pantry, Least of These, which has distributed nearly two million pounds of food this year. last year.

“Any free food is great, but free healthy food is even better,” said Kristy Carter, executive director of Least of These. “I can’t wait to see the look on the faces of the families receiving this and I hope I can share with them the story of how this happened. This is going to be a game changer when it comes to families getting fresh fruits and vegetables, because it’s just the beginning. It is the beginning of many harvests to come. I really hope other school districts in the area and other communities will follow in their footsteps. I think that would really make a huge difference.

It certainly made a difference for the students.

Some were surprised by their success.

“For me it was, ‘Oh wow! It’s really good,” said Kierstyn Huff, a fifth-grader.

And there’s also the satisfaction that their green hands are helping to feed the less fortunate.

“Yeah,” said fifth-grader Keller Robison when asked if it made her feel good to know where the products were going. “And it also makes me want to do it more.”

“It just creates that kind of accountability,” Shaughnessy added. “It’s ‘Hey, we want to learn this because we want to improve our community. We want a better future. So we hope to plant the seeds of change.

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