Students in Cook County are learning to grow plants and snacking on fresh veggies during class, thanks to gardens transported into the classroom.
Cook County has had a school district wellness committee since 2007. One result of the committee’s work has been a school-based agriculture project at the elementary school. During the 2016-2017 school year, a teacher found a way to bring those benefits into the classroom through winter.
Teacher Betsy Jorgenson proposed bringing indoor tower gardens to the school and pitched this idea to the wellness committee. Her vision was to provide fresh produce for snack time, engage students year-round in gardening and integrate food production topics and concepts into her lessons.
Research shows that school gardens increase kids’ consumption of fruit and veggies, and increases their willingness to try new produce.
During the 2016-2017 school year, two tower gardens were introduced in elementary classrooms with support from SIP. Students were involved in each step, from planting to harvesting to eating the produce. The original goal was to provide a classroom snack once a week using the tower-grown lettuce. The indoor gardens were so productive that classrooms were able to have salad snack almost every day of the week.
“It is the perfect way to experience growing and eating food at school,” Jorgenson said.
After a successful first year, teachers expanded the plantings, including lettuces, cucumbers and sugar snap peas. This success has also influenced the school’s updated wellness policy to include language to ensure that this type of classroom-produced food can be used for classroom snacks in the future.