Students in Phippsburg are eating more fresh produce, thanks to their school’s self-watering, self-fertilizing hydroponic planter that began supplying the cafeteria with fresh greens at the beginning of November.

Phippsburg students add new lettuce seedlings to a hydroponic planter. Contributed

The space age-looking planter, called “The Farmstand,” stands nearly five feet tall and is shaped like a vase. It can grow 24 plants at a time. Rings of LED lights promote 24/7 growth.

Phippsburg Elementary School obtained LEDs for the planter thanks to a partnership with the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust and a grant from the Whole Kids Foundation.

“The students are intrigued by it as many have never seen plants growing hydroponically,” physical education teacher Mary McCauley, who oversees the planter, said. “Right now, we’re growing cherry tomatoes, edible flowers, kale, spinach and an enormous variety of lettuce. We tried to pick plants that we can add to the student lunch menu.”

McCauley said she is excited to connect the planter with PES’s Outdoor Education and Science curriculums; students will begin formally learning about plants and photosynthesis in the spring.

“[The planter] allows the students to observe the plant’s development from seedlings to salads,” McCauley said. “We get to eat what we grow, and the students know it is a healthy choice as we link it to the 5-2-1-0 nutrition program that our school participates in.”

RSU1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said he is impressed with the planter and the hands-on learning it provides. “We hope to work with KELT to pursue additional grant funding that will place a hydroponic planter in all of our elementary schools. They are a unique and engaging learning tool.”

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