Advertisement
  1. Education

Hillel Academy's gardening program grows food, awareness

At Hillel Academy, sixth-graders Georgia Ryb, Rachel Howell, Jayden Forman and Michael Rabin tend to the hydroponic garden, which helps teach biology, chemistry and agriculture.
Published Dec. 10, 2015

TAMPA — Arielle Solomon, 12, would love to have a garden in her back yard.

But it's a dream that, for now, goes unfulfilled as long as the seventh-grader lives in what she describes as a "very concrete-filled home."

"We just don't have room for a garden," she said.

But thanks to a new gardening program adopted by her school, Hillel Academy, she flexes her green thumb and gives back to the community all while learning lessons in biology, chemistry and innovative agriculture.

Hillel Academy has partnered with Tampa Urban Benefit Farms, a local nonprofit organization that delivers fresh produce to communities that lack affordable, nutritious food, to supply food pantries with fruits and vegetables grown hydroponically.

Hydroponics is a soilless method of growing plants using mineral nutrient water.

While school gardens are common — Hillel Academy has had an Earth Box vegetable garden for years — hydroponic gardening is a concept that Nava Kirk, the founder of TUB Farms, said she would like to see catch on.

"Not every school can put in a traditional garden," she said. "Our hope is that we become a resource for schools so they can have the garden they want and connect students to the larger community."

Founded in March, TUB Farms' primary mission is to work with food pantries and shelters to install hydroponic systems. While that's still the goal, Kirk said she later came up with the idea to include schools, and the school-to-pantry program was born.

Kirk, a Hillel Academy alumna, said she approached the school with her idea and found immediate acceptance from administrators and middle school science teacher Amy Basham.

Kirk worked with Urban Oasis Farm Technology to design and install the hydroponic system over the summer. At the start of school in September, students planted crops of lettuce, Swiss chard, green beans and cucumbers.

Students currently are testing broccoli as the next crop, Basham said.

An important component of the school-to-pantry program is providing teachers with information on garden maintenance and guidance on curriculum, Kirk said.

"It gives teachers the ability to use the system however they want," she said. "Teachers are so busy, so it takes that pressure off of them."

The system at Hillel Academy can grow more than 400 plants. Students at every grade level participate from planting to harvesting, Basham said.

"The kids are excited that we're growing food for the community," she said. "It's pretty cool."

Eighth-grader Natan Egosi, 13, said he likes having the hydroponic garden on school grounds.

"It's really interesting, knowing how it works," he said. "It would be really nice to have a hydroponic farm at my house."

Hillsborough County Family Partnership Alliance, which provides social services to foster families, recently received the first donation of vegetables grown by Hillel Academy students.

Jill Tyree, director of the alliance's food pantry, said she's grateful that the organization will have a source of fresh produce to provide the more than 300 people who visit each month.

Equally exciting are the lessons about service and community that students are learning through the program, Tyree said.

"I think it's important for them. And they'll keep sharing with others," she said.

Arielle, the seventh-grader, said the school-to-pantry program has been "a really great experience."

"I think helping people in our community is amazing," she said. "We're all one big family when you think about it, and helping each other is helping the family."

Contact Kenya Woodard at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle pieces together a skull that might have been Amelia Earhart's. SANDRA C. ROA  |  University of South Florida
    DNA from a skull found in 1940 could prove whether the famous aviator has been found.
  2. A Hernando County Sheriff's deputy talks to students in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School in 2018. Earlier this month, the school district put forward a proposal to move away from a contract with the Sheriff and establish its own police force. On Tuesday, it announced it would drop that idea.
    Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis spoke out this week against the proposal.
  3. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    The sides have not set a time to resume discussions on teacher pay.
  4. Vials of medical marijuana oil. [Monica Herndon | Tampa Bay Times]
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  5. The Pasco County school district is considering adopting a policy for student medical marijuana use on district property. [Getty Images]
    The rule will not change the district’s current approach to the touchy topic.
  6. Shown in 2002, Carolyn Hill, then the principal of Kenly Elementary School in east Tampa, celebrated after 78 of her students improved their state scores and were treated to lunch at The Colonnade Restaurant. Hill, now deceased, might be honored Tuesday as the Hillsborough County School Board considers naming a school for her in the SouthShore area. STAFF  |  Tampa Bay Times
    School Board members will select a name on Tuesday
  7. Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, 55, is now in his 11th year leading the fourth largest school district in the nation. Miami Herald
    The charismatic leader of the nation’s fourth-largest school district has a complicated legacy. He almost took over the Pinellas County School District in 2008.
  8. Alachua County school superintendent Karen Clarke welcomes the crowd at a "listening session" Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 to discuss changes in the Florida's education standards. A similar session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Jefferson High, 4401 W Cypress St. in Tampa. The Florida Channel
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  9. The Pinellas School Board recognized James Krull as the district's bus Driver of the Year at its meeting Tuesday. From left are board members Bill Dudley, Eileen Long, Carol Cook, Rene Flowers, Krull, and board members Nicole Carr, Joanne Lentino and Lisa Cane. Pinellas County Schools
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  10. In this image from a telecast by The Florida Channel, Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks to a Gainesville crowd that came to discuss revisions to the state's education standards this past week. “We’re going to end up with the world’s best standards,” Corcoran said. The Florida Channel
    The effort, ordered by Gov. Ron DeSantis, aims to transform the way students learn in public schools. A “listening session” is set for Tampa’s Jefferson High.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement