Steamboat students learn new gardening techniques

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— Steamboat Springs Middle School students are being introduced to a sustainable food-growing project that utilizes aeroponics — a growing technique that trades dirt and soil for an air-and-mist environment.

A tower garden will be utilized in the middle school greenhouses and will be the basis of a food-growing project that will be open to all students and teachers in an effort to promote interest in different growing methods and to teach the importance of incorporating whole foods into a daily diet.

The project is the brainchild of various community members and teachers who are intent on teaching students about the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

Lauri Aigner, one of the primary leaders of the project, said she is excited to be able to team up with the middle school’s Green Team in order to get the project up and running. After seeing the school’s previously unused greenhouses, various community members, including Aigner, saw potential.

“The tower garden is something so simple for anyone to do,” Aigner said. “We want to involve all students in the project because of its simplicity. It can be fun and anyone can do it; you don’t need a green thumb.”

The tower garden’s use of aeroponics creates an alternative way to grow food.

The garden, which is a vertical tower, has a 20-gallon reservoir at its base that stores water and a liquid, earth-mineral, nutrient solution. Once the seeds are placed around the tower, a pump pushes the water to the top where it then drips over the exposed plant roots, providing nutrients, fresh water and clean oxygen.

This continuous process yields a harvest in 30 days and uses less than 10 percent of the water and land needed for a soil-based garden. This new growing method can provide two to three harvests from the same plant when done right, according to Aigner.

Along with an easy setup and minimal upkeep, the garden requires a small amount of space. For the future, as gardening space and soil quality decreases, this new type of gardening will be the next step.

Although the project is based at the middle school, Aigner hopes to involve other schools and community members in the project as well.

Elementary school field trips will allow younger students to take part in the process through planting and harvesting their own seeds. Over the summer, she hopes to continue the garden, possibly making it a communal responsibility.

“The overall goal of the project is to educate kids about different sustainable ways to grow food,” Aigner said.

Aigner also aspires to loftier goals for the introduction of the tower garden. Across the country, tower garden farms are beginning to spring up, and Aigner hopes to launch one in the community as well.

“There’s no reason why we can’t do this in Steamboat,” Aigner said.

With 22 plants per unit, a farm of gardens would be able to produce a staggering harvest to be used in any way the community sees fit.

“The sustainability of this project is huge,” Aigner added. “This is just the starting point.”

Emma Wilson, a senior at Steamboat Springs High School, is working as a spring intern for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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