Some of the vegetables served in the Grandview Heights City School District's cafeterias are more than just farm fresh -- they're classroom fresh.

Some of the vegetables served in the Grandview Heights City School District's cafeterias are more than just farm fresh -- they're classroom fresh.

The district placed nine indoor Tower Garden units throughout its schools in October. The third harvest of produce, including lettuce, chard, arugula and basil, was completed last week.

The Tower Garden is a vertical hydroponic growing system manufactured by Juice Plus. Four slots for plant pots are vertically arranged on the four sides of each square module. The modules are stacked to form a tower.

Each unit costs about $700, said Chief Academic Officer Jamie Lusher. The indoor gardens were purchased using leftover grant money and funds from her department.

While the gardens' produce is being integrated into the district's lunch menus, it also will help feed Grandview's focus on expanding its health and wellness curriculum across all grade levels, Lusher said.

"Our goal is to create viable opportunities where we can give access points for students to think about issues like food insecurity, living and nonliving things, PH systems and nonrenewable resources from kindergarten all the way through high school," she said.

The state of Ohio has set "the bare minimum" standards for health and wellness curriculum, she said.

"We want to raise the bar for what life wellness means to our students," Lusher said.

"Our health and wellness initiative looks to promote the physical, social and emotional well-being of our students through an integrated approach to K-12 wellness. It's an integrated approach to a real-world issue that will give our students a meaningful experience."

The gardens use an artificial light source; a reservoir pump supplies water for the plants.

"Both the light and water systems are on a timer," said Lusher, who has a garden in her office. "The gardens receive 16 hours of light each day. You can drive by my office at night and see the light coming through the window."

Tower Gardens are ideal for urban settings because they can grow produce in a confined space year-round, she said.

"They keep all the nutrients in," said Carmen Mendoza, a Spanish teacher at the high school who has a Tower Garden in her classroom.

A traditional small garden actually reduces the nutrients in soil "unless you're composting all the time," she said.

Mendoza advises the high school gardening club. Members used part of the harvest from the garden in her room to make a salad Jan. 9.

"It was so delicious," she said. "It was like you were eating the nutrients."

A variety of projects using the Tower Gardens are being planned throughout grade levels and subject areas, Lusher said.

"Kindergarten students will be discussing living and nonliving things and the fifth grade will be incorporating the gardens into their unit on food security and scarcity," she said.

The design and modeling classes at the high school will study the towers and develop ideas for how the units can be made more economical, making maximum use of the minimum space available in urban settings, Lusher said.

Students are excited about the gardens, she said.

"They come to my office all the time to check on how the plants are growing," Lusher said.

Mendoza said it took a little time for students to get used to the towers, the bright light they emit and the sound of the pumps watering the plants.

"Now they love it," she said. "It provides some great light during these dark days of winter, and the sound of the water is so relaxing."

afroman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekAfroman