Whittier School Uses Former Contraband to Grow Food
Hydroponic garden provides produce for farmer's market
WHITTIER - Three students at Whittier Community School mix plant food to pour into large plastic buckets that feed their school's hydroponic vegetable garden.
These kids are involved in a program that fights childhood obesity. They grow vegetables in a hydroponic garden, then sell them at a local farmers market to the community. Whittier is a small community nestled between mountains and the ocean. Almost everyone in town lives in a high rise next door to the school.
Today it's a dim, windy November day, but inside, it's bright with the lights that feed the plants. Electricity buzzes and a fan circulates the air. Pumps run through the plants growing in buckets and tubes drip water on what will eventually be vegetables.
This indoor garden has changed one boy's outlook on school. Joey Lipscomb is known as the school biologist. He cares for the school's fish, and has taken a very active role in the hydroponic garden. Today, he's looking carefully at the pumps that nourish the plants and helping other students adjust the nutrients to the right level.
His teacher, Stephanie Burgoon, said she's seen a different side of Lipscomb once he got involved in this project. And she would know. At Whittier Community School, there are 35 students ranging from pre-school to seniors in high school. Burgoon has known Lipscomb since he was three. She said he's the kind of kid who struggled with school. She said he was always good with math, but other subjects were a challenge. She said when he started working on the garden, that changed. "He's an amazing, amazing kid."
But this story starts before Lipscolm found renewed enthusiasm for education. This story started with a crime.
A few years ago, police caught a man growing marijuana on the 10th floor of the high rise. His crime became evident to the whole community when law enforcement carried pot plants out of the building. This got Stephanie Burgoon thinking. She asked the police what they were going to do with the growing suplies.
They said they would either store it or destroy it. Burgoon petitioned the court to so the school could use it for a science project, "turn something that was used in a negative way and turn it for something positive for our community."
The community can buy the vegetables at a farmer's market on the ground floor of the residential building. It's on a donation basis, so people pay what they can afford. Burgoon says service is a part of the lesson to the students as well.
This project is something all ages can help with. Right now they're experimenting what kind of lights are the best for growing. This will help them meet a national standard in the scientific method. When one instructor takes on several grades, they have to be creative to find projects that will suit more than a few students. But Burgoon says letting students take an interest in something and learning through trial and error is how she thinks students really gain understanding.
It's worked for Lipscolm. "By growing this stuff and seeing it grow properly, and harvesting all the things, it boosted my confidence in the garden and I think it boosted my confidence in the classroom."