It’s a hot, sunny day in August and the outdoor courtyard at Elm Street Middle School is hopping with activity. There’s laugher, chatter, almost a playground-like atmosphere.
But these aren’t kids assembling construction kits. They’re 150 adult volunteers from Fidelity in Merrimack who on this workday would rather hammer nails than manage money. Science instructor Denise Rock is one of the two teachers who raised funds for the micro-garden project.
"What you’re seeing here is almost the finished product. They’re just about done framing the almost 12 x 24-foot greenhouse."
Rock says they’ll be growing leafy greens and vegetables using alternative methods like aquaponics.
"The plants are on two shelves above a fish tank. The fish waste will be pumped up in the water up to the plants."
The fish waste acts as fertilizer. The plants will actually clean the water, and clean water will trickle back down to the fish tank below. Another feeding system works without the fish.
"Our team built the hydroponics table."
Karen Pratt of Fidelity points to the rolling wooden carts where hearty tomatoes will grow with only water and nutrients.
"To think back to eighth grade, I wouldn’t have had a clue what that meant. And these kids are going to be using the iPad, charting growth patterns. It’s wonderful."
Fidelity donated data loggers for students to measure heat, humidity, and P-H levels and create mathematical graphs. But the greenhouse is more than a science or math lesson.
"I’m Darcy Blauvelt and I teach literacy. In my class, the kids read Michael Pollan’s book, Omnivore’s Dilemma. So we talk a lot about where food comes from."
Blauvelt hopes the conversations in the classroom drift back home. Half of the one thousand or so students at Elm Street are on a free or reduced lunch program. And some qualify for a weekend’s supply of food every Friday.
With a few scrap materials, teacher Denise Rock says they can tend their own urban beds.
"As you can see, we’re building these things with Rubbermaid totes and two-by-fours. This shows the kids that you can have this in your triple-decker and still have a garden to feed your family."
Rock and Blauvelt hope to get a solar power system donated so they won’t need electricity or plumbing. They expect the leafy greens to sprout by September.