SOUTH HUNTERDON: Plant science students grow produce vertically

State officials come to the school to take a look

Officials from the state Department of Agriculture visited the agricultural science plant science class at South Hunterdon Regional High School on Sept. 26 in West Amwell and learned about its innovations with vertical produce-growing.
The occasion was the fourth annual Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week, which highlights efforts to connect schools with New Jersey farmers to buy local produce for school meals. It also seeks to teach children where their food comes from by growing it themselves in school gardens.
"Farm to School Week is a great time for schools to celebrate New Jersey’s abundance of fresh produce grown so close to where we live and to teach children the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables," said Secretary Doug Fisher.
South Hunterdon Regional High School Agricultural Science Instructor Tiffany Morey said the class uses a vertical planting wall provided by the New Jersey Farm to School Network. Students plant, water, feed, maintain and harvest the wall for the school year. They are currently growing basil, parsley, several varieties of lettuce, spinach, cabbage and Asian greens. The produce is used by the cafeteria staff and culinary arts classes.
"We have a great culinary arts program in our school and supportive cafeteria staff who utilize fresh produce in their dishes, so the wall seemed like it would be a good fit for our school," said Ms. Morey. "The agricultural science students were able to grow fresh greens that were turned into salads served during school lunches in the cafeteria and into more complex dishes by the culinary arts program."
"These Mobile Edible Walls work as indoor school gardens, allowing students in all different settings to see how plants grow, to experience the successes and failures of growing food and to have hands-on experience right in their classrooms," she said.
The Department of Agriculture will provide additional funds this school year to schools for connecting their Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program with the Farm to School Program. The schools must provide Jersey Fresh produce a minimum of two days each month from September to November and from April to June and must verify where the produce was grown. Eighty percent of the 158 schools are participating.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is federally-funded and administered by the state Department of Agriculture to provide healthier food choices; expand the variety of fruits and vegetables children experience, and increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption.
By law, Farm to School Week takes place each year the last week in September. For information about the Farm to School Program, visit www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/fn/childadult/farmtoschool.html.