Bunnell students grow food using hydroponics.
It was just 10 a.m. and the sixth grade students in Cathie Zanella’s class already had their hands dirty. But that’s to be expected since the students were busy preparing the hydroponic gardens at the school for fall planting.
There is a large greenhouse on the school grounds with hydroponic towers lining the outside. This was their first day in what is called a “special area” class and the children were cleaning out the remnants of last year’s harvest so this year’s herbs and vegetables can be planted.
“This is our flagship program for green technologies,” Zanella said. “This year we have added cooking and culinary, all part of our focus with agriscience.”
Under the supervision of, fourth-grade teacher Danielle Burton, Deborah Hough, Flagler County extension service family nutrition program assistant, Valerie Walker, and Zanella, the Styrofoam containers were emptied of the existing roots and planting medium, which were then loaded into a wheelbarrow and hauled away.
The cleanup job was one that would cause most adults to groan, but the children were having fun and learning at the same time.
“It’s all about the process,” Zanella said. “It’s not just about eating the food at the end. They learn the steps and what it takes to grow food with hydroponics.”
Experts from the University of Florida and the extension service are often guest speakers in the classes, including Hough who focuses on the nutritional benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Fall plantings will include herbs, strawberries and possibly lettuce. Once harvested, the students will enjoy the results of their hard work. Extra food will be donated to local food pantries and shared with teachers and students at the school.
“We have about 10 different special area classes and this one is health,” said student Izzy Colindres. “This is one of the most interactive because we are planting and working in the greenhouse.”
Izzy said that she had tried aquaponic gardening at home a couple of years ago but it didn’t end as she had hoped.
“We went away and the one day I left it out, it rained really hard and my plants died,” she said.
Not one to give up, Izzy was looking forward to being in Zanella's class and learning about hydroponics.
Not all of the instruction is limited to class time. Zanella and Burton oversee the Fuel 60 Ag Club, one of the schools extracurricular after school programs.
“In the club we do a lot of what we do in school but we can go further, especially with the culinary activities,” Zanella said.