Whittier Tech Students Growing Own Vegetables for School Restaurant

Science teacher Ryan Burke and Haverhill freshman Tacia Mansell tend to one of Whittier Tech's garden towers. (Courtesy photograph)

Forget from farm-to-table: At Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, it’s all about from tower garden-to-table. As part of a state-of-the-art growing system installed last fall, culinary students are including fresh vegetables grown in one of the school’s three gardens in their recipes.

The garden’s first seeds were planted in November and students harvested their first yield of fresh crops less than a month later. Basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, Swiss chard and kale are among the items being included in recipes at the school’s Poet’s Inn restaurant.

Culinary students aren’t the only ones at Whittier Tech taking advantage of the garden’s growth. Science teachers are in the process of revamping the school’s biology curriculum to incorporate the gardens, while students in the masonry, electrical and carpentry programs have had hands-on experience refurbishing the greenhouse.

“Several students said they had never heard of basil, kale or Swiss chard, so the gardens could be a launching point for healthier eating habits, too,” science teacher Ryan Burke said.

Whittier hopes to expand their garden to include six additional towers, which grow seeds in pseudo soil packs called rock wool. Water is pumped from a 20-gallon tank through tubes to the top of the tower every 45 minutes, with irrigation trickling down like a waterfall.

Manufactured by Juice Plus+, the garden towers used at Whittier Tech are said to take up 90 percent less space and water than a conventional garden.