Hillel Academy vegetable garden offers lessons in science, caring
For many years, it has had an Earth Box vegetable garden. But now, since entering into a partnership with Tampa Urban Benefits Farms (TUB Farms), it has a true farm program – the first school-based TUB Farm hydroponic farm in the Tampa Bay area.
TUB Farms is a local non-profit organization that gives students multiple learning opportunities while providing fresh produce to needy members of the community. Hillel is the first school in a pilot program designed to connect “farmer” schools with beneficiary agencies that will distribute the vegetables and herbs to their clients while the students learn about innovative agriculture and grow systems.
TUB Farm founder Nava Kirk, a Hillel alumna, approached Head of School Amy Wasser with the idea of placing a TUB Farm on school property. An agreement was struck and Middle School science teacher Amy Basham was named to serve as the academy’s liaison and TUB Farm manager.
“The incredible reception from students and faculty is more than we could have hoped for,” Kirk said, adding, “We understand that teachers are incredibly busy, so we designed it as a program to assist teachers with maintaining the TUB Farm, as well as to provide guidance on curriculum, give tours to students and coordinate the donation of the vegetables.”
The first donation of food from the school farm was to be made this month to HCFPA, Hillsborough County Family Partnership Alliance, which helps people in the dependency system, including foster parents and relative caregivers. Vegetable donations from Hillel Academy will go directly to the HCFPA food pantry.
“HCFPA is excited about the new partnership with Hillel Academy and the TUB Farms. We look forward to sharing fresh fruits and vegetables with the foster families and the needy of our community that come to our food pantry to a receive food on a monthly basis,” says Kim Hernandez, HCFPA president.
The TUB Farm is a school-wide endeavor. Each class attended hydroponic farm lessons and planted its own tower of 16 plants, which they monitor frequently.
The TUB Farm vegetables were grown from both seed and seedling and almost every student has planted his or her own seed or sprout. Fall crops growing at Hillel Academy include cucumbers, Swiss chard, lettuce, squash, green beans and basil.
“In my opinion,” said science teacher Basham, “growing food crops contributes an incredibly important aspect to a child’s education. In today’s world of processed and factory-produced everything, students often forget that much of their food originated as a plant that can be grown, harvested and enjoyed. All branches of science can be taught through the simple process of growing a vegetable garden. When students are able to contribute to growing vegetables, they are able to connect with the science, see its validity in their lives, and hopefully learn to make wise science-based food choices as they grow up.”
Then by adding the element of donating the vegetables, she said, “The experience becomes even more meaningful.”