By Pam Harnden, Livermore Falls Advertiser
LIVERMORE — Spruce Mountain Primary School has added another fun way to get food to its students.
Phoenix Food Pantry Coordinator Farrah Poirier wrote a grant through the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn. The grants help expand gardens at Maine schools.
“Maine has a short growing season. I was able to get a grant to purchase two Tower Gardens to grow vegetables hydroponically indoors,” Poirier said.
The towers are housed in the conference room on the second floor. Each Friday Poirier and two students from Mrs. Lambert’s Kindergarten class test the pH level and adjust it as needed. They also check to see if seedlings have germinated and are ready to move to the tower.
“Mrs. Lambert’s students are having fun. If the pH is above 5, I adjust it. The students check to see if the roots are showing through the bottom. When they do, we transplant them to a tower,” Poirier said.
Since October cucumber, cherry tomato, green pepper, eggplant, bok choi, arugula, sweet basil, rainbow chard and leaf lettuce seedlings have been started and moved to the towers.
The first lettuce harvest was made last week. Students Gregory Damren and Sophie Morrell held open zip lock bags for Poirier to place the lettuce in. Some plants were so large a gallon sized bag was needed.
Students in Mrs. Lambert’s class would take the lettuce home that afternoon. A letter explaining the program was also sent home.
The company’s website says the Tower Garden system allows 30 percent more food to be produced three times faster and using 98 percent less water than in a soil-based system. The vertical design also uses 90 percent less space.
Each tower uses vertical grow lights that come on at 6 a.m. and shut off at 8 p.m. The nutrient/water solution in each tower bubbles up to the top of the tower and then drips down through the center of the tower, cascading over the plant roots. The solution pumps for 3 minutes, then sits idle for 15 minutes to provide the ideal amounts of oxygen, water and nutrients to the plants.
Poirier said more water and minerals are added once a month.
“I would like every class to have a tower. They’re expensive but are supposed to last longer than our life time,” Poirier said. “The towers are pretty neat.”
Poirier said she continues to write grants. Fundraising and community donations also help keep the Phoenix Food Pantry stocked. She hopes to buy a trailer for the monthly produce give-aways and other deliveries from Good Shepherd.
“One thousand pounds of food goes out of the pantry every month,” she said. “The produce give-aways are separate. They provide what’s available in season. I get bread when possible.”