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BACK TO SCHOOL: IPS Kicks Off Green Revolution with Aeroponic Towers in Schools

Don’t have a green thumb? That won’t be a problem for students at Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) this school year as the district is spearheading a green revolution right in the heart of the city.

IPS is breaking ground in urban agriculture with its partnership with Purdue Extension Marion County and Farm Credit Mid-America, introducing aeroponic towers into schools. And, thanks to a grant from the Indiana 4-H Foundation, the project marks a significant step towards sustainable and accessible gardening.

The district’s administrative building displays the first such tower, with plans to expand to Meredith Nicholson School 96 and William McKinley School 39 in August. With funding efforts underway, the aim is to integrate these towers into school’s district-wide, enriching educational experiences with hands-on urban agriculture.

Kris Rutherford, the district’s webmaster who also serves an agricultural consultant to garden clubs throughout IPS, has been instrumental in driving this initiative forward. At the conclusion of last school year, he reached out to Purdue Extension Marion County, attended training classes, and installed the first tower.

He’s already planted chard, basil, arugula, kale, and three types of lettuce. 

“Introducing children to vegetable gardening has several benefits. Firstly, it encourages them to eat more fruits and vegetables,” Rutherford said. “When children actively participate in growing vegetables, they are more likely to try new ones and continue eating them as they grow older. This fosters healthy eating habits from an early age, potentially reducing the risk of obesity and other health issues later in life.

“Teaching children to grow vegetables also promotes a sense of responsibility,” he said. “Through caring for their plants, children learn important tasks such as watering and harvesting. This hands-on experience instills a sense of accountability that can extend beyond gardening to other aspects of their lives.”

Rutherford believes the introduction of aeroponic towers will create a strong buzz about agriculture throughout the urban district.

Unlike traditional gardening methods, aeroponics utilize a soilless medium, promoting rapid, healthy plant growth.

Such towers nourish plants with a nutrient-rich mist, mimicking the process used by NASA in space agriculture. This high-tech approach not only yields faster growth but also conserves water, with tower gardens using up to 90% less water compared to conventional gardening.

Rutherford said these offer a hassle-free gardening experience. With automated watering systems and minimal maintenance requirements, even those without a green thumb can enjoy bountiful harvests.