Growing skills at Boys and Girls Club

Published 10:31 pm Thursday, May 11, 2017

Kids at the Boys and Girls Club in Suffolk are learning and growing with their new aeroponic garden.

The Tower Garden has been set up in a corner of the cafeteria at John F. Kennedy Middle School, where the club is based. In just three weeks, plants in the well-lit white tower have grown to two or three inches tall, to the delight of the nine students in the Garden Club.

“I thought it was going to grow a lot slower,” said Darryl Thompson, a sixth-grader at John F. Kennedy Middle School. “It helps us be healthier than just eating junk food all the time.”

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The students chose what they would plant in their Tower Garden. They decided on bibb lettuce, gourmet lettuce, arugula, peppers, basil, bok choy, tomatoes and rainbow chard.

The Tower Garden is aeroponic, not hydroponic, because the plants’ roots do not sit in the water all the time. Rather, water is pumped up from a holding tank at the bottom and trickles down past the root systems.

The garden gets 12 hours of light a day. Both the light and the water pump are on a timer.

The students regularly test the pH of the water to ensure it is optimal for growing plants. They also track the growth of the plants by measuring their height and taking photos.

Ronald Tyree, a program leader at the Boys and Girls Club, said Darryl has been a leader in the project.

“Ever since we started, he took the lead in setting up this whole ensemble,” Tyree said. “He showed great enthusiasm, and the other kids have followed his lead.”

Hillpoint Elementary School third-grader Maya Walker, a club member, said it’s fun to work with the Tower Garden, but it’s also teaching her responsibility.

“It’s a big responsibility to keep it clean,” she said. “I really want to try the peppers.”

Once the produce from the Tower Garden has ripened, the club members plan to have a salad party and invite parents, said LaMarr Coles III, unit director. If there is enough left over, they hope to sell jarred salads as a fundraiser.

The Tower Garden can be used again, so a new group of students will be able to work with the garden the next time around. Tyree said Darryl will make a good mentor to the new students.

“They can get something out of it and pass it on,” Tyree said.

The Tower Garden was granted to the club by the JuicePlus company, which sells the gardens. The company hopes eventually to have one in every Boys and Girls Club unit in the United States.

“We want to inspire healthy living around the world, and of course it’s going to start with our children,” said Pamela Spell, a wellness educator for JuicePlus. “If they’re growing their own fruits and vegetables, they’re going to eat it. They’re teaching the kids how to be entrepreneurs. It’s just an incredible program.”

Coretta Manley, a health and wellness educator for JuicePlus, said she immediately thought of the Suffolk club when she heard about the opportunity. Her own daughters used to be members of the club.

“It’s close to home,” she said. “I just felt like I should share this with my community.”

She said it’s important for children to start thinking healthy early.

“I think the kids will be excited about growing the food,” she said. “It’s going to give the kids exposure to different vegetables. Developing healthy habits and lifestyles is the key.”