US (PA): Linntown teacher grows student interest in hydroponic gardening

Gardening is not unusual to the students in Erin Rittle’s class at Linntown Intermediate School, but the hydroponic farm stand she set up this year inside her classroom sure was. Rittle entered a contest online and was gifted a $500 vertical garden from Seeds of Success Therapy Group and Lettuce Grow.

The contest judges thought well of Rittle’s entry that explained how she would assign specific tasks to students who would track the growth of plants on the stand. She also expressed a belief that the stand and resulting class project would help engage students with special needs and behavioral needs.

Rittle wanted students to learn how to incorporate healthy options in their diets along with lessons both in food sustainability and self-sustainability. “The whole thing behind this was to create fun,” Rittle said. “When students have a say or a hand or a part in what they’re doing, they’re more likely to get excited about it.”

The 24-plant hydroponic stand is about 4 feet in height. Starter seedlings come in pods that are inserted into the stand. It is self-watering and self-fertilizing. Rittle turned to Linntown’s PSA, which purchased grow lights at about $350. Students refill the basin, test the pH levels, and provide nutrients weekly. They are all assigned an individual plant to track as it grows.

Addison Smith, 9, put two fingers beneath a red hibiscus flower, pulling at it ever so slightly for a better look, to show the plant assigned to her. To the flower’s immediate right is another, purple, growing from the same plant.

“I thought it was unusual that mine had two different colors,” Smith said. Tristan Roupp, 10, has a marigold that has bloomed, too. Sullivan Tiede, 10, must wait much longer for the alpine strawberry plant to bear fruit, perhaps about four months. It has begun to flower but has a ways to go.

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