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Coming to a classroom near you..

An idea that grows on you

Horticulture in the playground

Gardens are becoming pretty important places for schools. Not only are teachers getting green-fingered to illustrate points in subjects such as biology and geography but some school gardens are also stocking the canteen, saving money and teaching students about food production.

While this shift is an easy one to manage for schools that have a lot of fertile land to play with, for those that have only a small shaded patch of concrete behind the science block, gardening is a lot harder to facilitate. Up until now, the latter have had to make do with a few unproductive flower beds dotted around the school site.

But US firm Sun State Organics thinks it has a solution for schools that are short on space: vertical gardens. The process, which was developed for commercial use, involves seeds being planted in a number of pots that are placed on vertical poles to create a multilayered garden. Within the system of poles and pipes there are complex technologies that enable crops to be grown almost without assistance, and in any weather or geographic location, be it inside or outside. And the yield for such a small footprint is disproportionately large, the company says.

"We have reversed the agricultural paradigm to enable more to be grown using less," explains Brian Donnelly, a partner in the company. "It provides a safe, secure way to achieve food sovereignty."

While the system is aimed primarily at commercial clients, Donnelly says it is scalable and flexible enough to be adapted for use by schools. And children can learn a lot from having a vertical garden, he believes.

"The system is applicable to science classes, botany, agronomy and also, of course, the cafeteria," Donnelly says.

As well as teaching students practical growing skills and about the values of sustainability and self-sufficiency, the system could even inspire a few to think about agriculture as a career path, he says. By offering an alternative business model to the typical food production line, vertical gardens could allow children to consider a future in farming, even if relocating to the countryside is not on their immediate to-do list.

The product has only recently come to market but it is already attracting attention. A system was installed in a London pub this year to provide ingredients for the kitchen, while Sun State Organics is working with community groups in the US to consider how vertical gardens could be used. As for schools, the first vertical garden to go into an educational establishment will be installed later this year at a US facility for autistic students. While this is a small start, as the system itself proves, a small start can produce surprisingly large results.

For more on the vertical gardening system, visit sunstateorganics.com.

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