Cafeteria gets greener with soil-less growing system

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Cafeteria gets greener with soil-less growing system

Photo by Caroline Quinn

Photo by Caroline Quinn

Photo by Caroline Quinn

Photo by Caroline Quinn

By Samara Schiffman, Correspondent

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Pomptonian Food Service gave the school cafeteria a taste of the future of farming on Nov. 12 by installing a soil-less vertical growing system for fruits and vegetables called a Tower Garden.

The Tower Garden provides an eco-friendly way to grow food for school meals that is 30 percent faster and uses 90 percent less water and space than traditional soil gardening, according to Pomptonian Food Service. The roughly five-foot-tall white plastic device, which currently sits between the registers in the deli counter section of the cafeteria, can grow dozens of different herbs, fruits and vegetables, all without soil or sunlight.

Danielle Goergon, food service director for Pomptonian at West Essex, said the Tower Garden is currently growing basil, arugula and two types of lettuce that will be used daily in meals for students and staff.

“West Essex Regional High School is always one of Pomptonian’s top picks to explore new innovative ideas,” Ms. Goergon said.

Culinary class students have already begun helping with planting in the Tower Garden, Ms. Goergon said, and Pomptonian has invited other students, classes and clubs to get involved with the ecological and environmental benefits of the Tower Garden system.

Science teacher Eric Johnson, who teaches Earth and Environmental Science and also advises the WE-CARE club, said the Tower Garden was an excellent step for putting West Essex on the forefront of modern nutrition and food science.

“Having nutritious, homegrown vegetables added to the menu here is revolutionary, health-wise,” Mr. Johnson said.

He said the Tower Garden could also be a visual reminder of where food actually comes from and activity that inspires some to be more active in eating well and knowing food’s health benefits.

“Maybe the biggest a-ha moment that some kids might have while doing this is seeing that food should be alive,” he said.

“It’s cool that the plants do not need to be grown outside,” senior Alexandra Shamosh said. “Since they can be grown in the caf without soil they will be a lot healthier.” 

In time, the Tower Garden could grow a new crop of student farmers at West Essex.

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Cafeteria gets greener with soil-less growing system