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Implementing a Sustainable Growing Tower Program

By: Nadine Ammar, OSNP Windsor-Essex

Growing towers have become recognized as an innovative way to encourage healthy habits in the classroom and to expose students to alternative forms of traditional gardening. In the last 2 years, I’ve had the pleasure of implementing growing tower programs in 3 local schools and wanted to share my experience with those who are interested in implementing similar concepts with schools participating in SNPs.

Planning Phase
Selecting a school and planning the integration of the growing tower program with the school curriculum is often challenging as grade levels, educational levels, infrastructure, and the teacher’s objectives and goals differ from program to program. An essential component to guarantee the success of a program is to find a school champion that owns and embraces the project. The first year that the program was implemented, I was heavily involved in the facilitation and maintenance of the program as the teacher involved unexpectedly left throughout the semester. This unforeseen event created many challenges which solidified how vital a school representative’s role is in the success of the program. Year two proved to be much more manageable as all three schools recruited enthusiastic and determined educators to lead the initiative.

Infrastructure is also a key component in the planning phase. While the Good Food Machine previously donated tower garden systems, it is now more likely that a school would require a third party to fund the initiative as the costs may be high when first introducing the project. This cost breakdown provides an estimate of the cost associated with funding such program.

Integrating the activities with the current school curriculum should be discussed and planned out before launching the project to ensure a seamless experience for the students. FoodShareTO has free resources available which include curriculum based activities and tools required to get the program initiated. The Good Food Machine has curriculum based activities that can be purchased as well. During my time working with the schools, I also developed activities, both in English and French, that are available to all CDCs who may want make use of them.

Launching the Program
The timing and duration of the program depends on the school’s availability however most programs runs between 3-4 months increments. A breakdown of the activities and weeks planned can be found here.

Sustainability
1. Ensure the commitment of the school champion and have a transition plan in the event educator switches occur in the school.
2. During the first round of the program, touch base with the lead to ensure that program is followed and additional support or troubleshooting isn’t required.
3. Manage expectations with the school by reassuring them that growing may not always be successful and provide resources to support the continuation of the program.
4. Ensure a contingency plan during weeks and months the school has breaks to ensure the continued maintenance of the towers.
5. Engage students by assigning them to specific weekly responsibilities to instill ownership of the program. An easy way to organize student’s engagement is through a Tower Garden Responsibilities Sheet
6. Integrate the growing towers with Student Nutrition Programs by organizing a monthly salad bar or smoothie day using the garden harvest.

Happy growing!

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