How to Inspire 12-Year-Olds: The impact growing their own food had on a Red Bank middle school class.

By Amanda Brockwell, Director of Programs and Outreach

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Have you ever stood in front of a classroom of middle school students?  The experience can be frightening!  This group of students grew fresh, organic vegetables in their classroom using an aeroponic growing unit, known as a Tower Garden, gifted to them by Monmouth Conservation Foundation.  Visiting classrooms which received the towers helps us better understand the impact of the experience and allows us to teach the next generation about conservation issues, for example, how sustainable food production and land preservation can help alleviate the impacts of climate change. 

Looking around the room, the students were initially aloof to what I had to say.  I was taken back to my own middle school days when I was also too cool for school.  I quickly recognized I needed common ground that we could all connect to in order to warm up this classroom.  The way into anyone’s heart is food, so I decide to feed them.  Food brings everyone together, particularly good food!  Together, using the lettuces, kale and herbs grown in the classroom and some beautiful, locally grown strawberries (from a preserved farm, of course!) we prepared and enjoyed a delicious and incredibly fresh salad.  I was finally getting through to them! 

The classroom came alive with questions.  How exactly do plants grow without soil?  What is in the salad dressing?  Why does this lettuce taste so different than the salad from Wendy’s last night?  Can I grow this at home?  Our discussions led to some great ideas for their school science symposium.  One student, who hadn’t made a peep all class, asked about the carbon cycle and how preserving forests help to absorb greenhouse gases.  After our advanced conversation, I asked him to send us a resumé if he needed a college internship in a few years.   

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When the bell rang, I gave them all a small parting gift, a packet of seeds to plants in their own backyard to feed our pollinators which are critical to our food supply.  They promised they would tell everyone they knew about the importance Monmouth Conservation Foundation’s work.  Off to their next class they went, educated, inspired and energized.  Mission accomplished.  Little did those kids know, they inspired me.  I left that classroom feeling hopeful that we are leaving the future of our planet in good hands.

Monmouth Conservation Foundation granted six classrooms an aeroponic growing device, a Tower Garden, to schools across Monmouth County, including Asbury Park, Holmdel, Howell, Henry Hudson, Neptune and Red Bank.  Growing food in classrooms through a hands-on, interactive experience, led to a deeper understanding of many aspects of their science curriculum.  It also paved the way for students to think about why preserving farmland is important and how different growing our food might be in the future. 

While visiting over 800 students at the end of the school year, MCF staff was able to observe how this one program piqued their curiosity, inspiration and improved critical thinking.  None of this would have been possible without the generous grant funding provided by the Community Foundation of New Jersey.

MCF is currently preparing to offer another program round to middle schools in Monmouth County for the 2019/2020 school year.  The application deadline is September 30, 2019 and more information can be found at http://www.monmouthconservation.org/tower-gardens or by contacting Amanda Brockwell at abrockwell@monmouthconservation.org.

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