Tower could serve as a teaching tool for students
BENEDICT, Md. — If a Charles County farmer gets his way, every elementary schooler in Southern Maryland will learn about crop agriculture without ever leaving the building.
Bernie Fowler Jr., founder of the nonprofit Farming 4 Hunger at Serenity Farm in Benedict, is working to place so-called Tower Gardens in every elementary school in Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties.
The gardens, created by Tennessee-based Juice Plus+, are aeroponic, meaning they can grow crops such as basil, cucumbers, eggplant and lettuce without soil.
Using a proprietary mineral blend poured into the tower’s base, the crops grow in a medium called rockwool that keeps roots oxygenated and watered.
The mineral solution is pumped to plants growing up and down through the tower.
The company claims the gardens boost yields by up to 30 percent, triple a plant’s growth speed and use just 10 percent of the water and space.
To Fowler, the towers represent more than just food. They tie into his organization’s larger vision for personal health.
“It all pertains to healthy choices, starting from elementary to middle school to high school and on,” he said. “Kids are more apt to eat fruits and vegetables if they learn about growing them.”
Gardens were debuted in two schools in June: William B. Wade Elementary in Waldorf and Barstow Elementary in Calvert County.
Fowler said the project is paid for through grants and donations at no cost to the schools, but he’s seeking sponsors to put up the $1,000 yearly lease cost, which covers everything each school needs: seeds, fertilizer, consultation and maintenance, including replacement parts such as LED lights.
“It’s not like we’re going to make any money off of it,” he said.
Quality Built Homes in Prince Frederick sponsored Barstow Elementary’s garden, and the Casey Jones Shamrock 5K Run/Walk sponsored Wade Elementary’s.
Since it was founded in 2012, Farming 4 Hunger has grown into a well-known farming operation that grows and distributes more than a million pounds of locally grown food each year through partnerships with local farms, churches, businesses, schools and food banks.
Fowler said he hopes to put Tower Gardens in all 53 elementary schools over the next year.
“If we’re going to have a change in anything, it’s got to start with the children,” he said.
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