Urban farming comes to WSS 

Students get hands-on with 'tower gardens'

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - GROWING UP Whistler Secondary School students, from left: Justin Doronila, Iris Paguia, Martin Mueller and Sophie St. Jacques taste the fruits of their labour.
  • photo by braden dupuis
  • GROWING UP Whistler Secondary School students, from left: Justin Doronila, Iris Paguia, Martin Mueller and Sophie St. Jacques taste the fruits of their labour.

On November 19, 2015 Whistler Secondary School teacher Lesley Clements and her 9/10 foods class planted more than six dozen edible plants — everything from cucumbers and peppers to broccoli, lettuce and kale.

By January 8, their greenery was on full display and ready to eat.

Normally, homegrown produce like this would be hard to come by in the middle of a Whistler winter, but these are no ordinary gardens.

This year, Clements and her class are experimenting with the Tower Garden — a vertical, indoor garden that makes use of "aeroponics" to grow quality produce year-round.

"The idea came from, originally, talking about carbon footprints, and how much of the food we eat has this carbon footprint attached to it," Clements explained.

"And so as a class we discussed ways that we can reduce our carbon footprint, and this was one of the ideas that came out."

The towers make use of a specialized nutrient solution instead of soil. The solution is poured into the base of the tower, and a small, low-wattage submersible pump distributes it to the roots of the plants.

The towers are illuminated by T5 fluorescent grow lights for 11 hours a day — the manufacturer estimates running the lights for one tower costs about $0.43 per day.

"These are really good, because now we don't have to ship in our vegetables, and we have a lower carbon footprint," explained student Sophie St. Jaques.

The school purchased three tower gardens at a total cost of about $3,600, Clements said.

Whistler Secondary and its Parent Advisory Council shared the costs.

One of the towers will be used for experimentation and instruction — like teaching students in a food class about sustainability or those in a science class about photosynthesis — while the other two will be used to supply the school's cafeteria.

Some students have already experimented with the greenery on their pizzas, Clements said.

"Usually they're kind of like, 'Ooh we don't want like spinach on our pizza,'" she said.

"But because they got to use the tower garden they were like, 'Yeah, this is awesome!'"

Enthusiasm for vegetables aside, Clements said she hopes her students learn that they don't necessarily have to be dependant on grocery stores and commercial food production.

"You can actually do stuff at home, and using technology, you can actually be a lot more self sufficient and not rely on the factory farming practices, and all the herbicides and the pesticides that go along with that," she said.

"You can actually grow things for yourself and feed yourself."

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