Students 'love the garden' in the classroom

Sarah Noble Intermediate School fourth-grade teacher Tara Gee is sharing an important message with her students.

With the help of a Tower Garden, the New Milford teacher is teaching them how to make wise decisions when it comes to nutrition and how to create a sense of community and responsibility.

Gee has teamed with Andrea Price-Johnson, franchise owner of Tower Gardens, to raise awareness of how to think and eat healthier.

“I am connecting children with year-round gardens in their schools and classrooms, educating them on whole food nutrition and improving school lunches,” said Price-Johnson.

A private donor sponsored a tower garden with lights for Gee’s classroom, and Price-Johnson set it up and gave each student a rock wool cube to plant their seeds.

“The students in my class have been in charge of the plants from seedlings to harvest time,” Gee said.

“They plant the seeds, tend to the growing seedlings, check the pH level of the water to ensure proper acid/base level, rip the roots out, add the mineral to the water,” she said.

The garden has been a hit.

“I feel like a hero every time I step into this classroom,” Price-Johnson said. “The kids can’t wait to show me what they are growing.”

Among the items grown are bean, pea and spinach seedlings, lettuce, basil, cucumbers, peppers and Swiss chard.

The tower has yielded many offerings, so much Gee has introduced salad days for her class of 20 students.

Every few weeks Gee picks the greens and children bring in toppings from home.

“My inspiration was to create a sense of community and responsibility, as well as the health aspects of encouraging veggies as a nutritional snack,” Gee said.

“Students share their veggies and bring in extra toppings that they pass out to their classmates, which promotes sharing and teamwork,” she said.

In addition, Gee’s class is selling classroom-grown basil at the teacher’s snack store to raise money for the local animal shelter.

The Tower Garden project is funded solely through donations.

Gee said the parents love having the garden in the classroom, and noted how they donate seeds, their time and minerals to keep it going.

Price-Johnson said she is hoping to get more towers into other classrooms in private and public schools.

A tower is set up at the Children’s Movement Center.

“I’m working on getting one in town hall, as well as the senior center,” Price-Johnson said. “Perhaps food grown there can be donated to the soup kitchen, thus bringing the community closer together.”

In regard to the classroom towers, “This is about how children connect with the world around them, grow a plant from seed through nurturing it, and then being able to enjoy the fruits of their labors,” Price-Johnson said.

“Their pride is evident and the lessons learned will take them on through their life.”

The students rave about the Tower Garden.

“I like how we learn about how to care and grow plants right in our classroom,” said student Ben Daniels.

“I learned that minerals can help the plants grow and now I can check pH levels,” he said.

“The best part is that we have different jobs to help the Tower Garden plants grow,” he said. “Sometimes I get to pull the roots out.”

Student Nathan Gray said he loves “how to the Tower Garden lights up the room and is very unique because no other class has one.

“The best part is eating the veggies in a salad,” he said.

“This is definitely a project that the students will always remember,” Gee said. “They love the garden and care for the plants with love.”

The classroom is known as The Green Thumb Classroom on Twitter, and features photographs of the Tower Garden’s progress. For more information about Price-Johnson’s Tower Garden, visit www.apricejohnson.