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Funding helps Phoenix Academy students grow indoor garden

The school has received $3,000 from Whole Kids Foundation to purchase a tower garden

Students at Phoenix Academy will engage in a tasty project this winter as they learn how to grow an indoor garden.

The school announced recently that it had received $3,000 from Whole Kids Foundation to purchase a tower garden. The North American company supports schools and inspires families to improve children’s nutrition and wellness. It also helps increase access to and consumption of fresh, nutritious, whole foods and encourages community actions that support healthier kids.

“We’re very excited. Growing fresh food inside the school in the dead of winter in Saskatchewan, who wouldn’t be excited about that?” chuckled teacher Nichole Cornea. “I grow gardens in the summer myself and everything tastes better from the garden.

“I think many of our kids don’t have that opportunity, so I think this will be really good for them to learn some skills that way. I think it’s a great educational opportunity and it will really enhance our nutrition program.”

School staff applied for the funding last year after coming across the foundation online. One requirement was that someone in the community had to provide guidance on how to grow a garden. After some searching, businesses Windmill Greenhouses and Juice Plus stepped forward to support the school.

The foundation approved the school’s application in February and was supposed to provide the money in March. However, the pandemic came along and shut down all schools. The organization then promised to provide funding this fall.

Phoenix Academy operates in a building across from the old Union Hospital site, so it has no outdoor garden space, said Cornea. The school’s nutrition worker will help students manage the garden, which will function in a tower growing system. Youths will water the plants — some will start as seeds and others will come pre-grown — using nutrient-infused liquid.   

Gardening lights will help the plants grow, while students will be responsible for pruning and learning how gardens grow. After four to six weeks, students will pick the produce for the school’s daily lunch program.

“I’ve seen them (plants) growing. We went and (the owner of Windmill Greenhouses) had one in her house and had three or four inside this greenhouse, and I just could not believe how big tomato plants and strawberries (were),” said Cornea. “It’s quite amazing.”

The school is linking this project with the science curriculum, which means science teachers could connect assignments with this project. Aside from youths studying from home, all 75 students will be able to care for the garden.

Sean Chase, the director of education for Holy Trinity Catholic School Division, visited the school recently and indicated that students and staff are excited about this project. Phoenix Academy is always looking for ways to engage students there, he noted, especially since many youths have had challenges in their academic journey.

“One of the engagement strategies they’ve used in recent used is a pretty decent take-up in their robotics club, so this would be another example of an opportunity to have … a better fit with certain people’s interests,” added Chase. “So we’re quite thankful for the grant that was allocated there and … I know teachers are (looking forward) to engaging kids in a unique way.”