Elementary students learn a lesson in organic gardening

District 1 K-6 Library Coordinator Leslie Allen, center, helps Rickard Elementary fourth graders churn soil to prepare for planting. The students planted lettuce, kale, spinach and more as part of a project for the school to grow its own organic garden for use in the cafeteria.

Some local students are getting a lesson in self-sustainability thanks to some brothers from New York.

Andy Maslin Jr. and his brother Zachary, co-owners of 2445 Organics, traveled from Massena, New York, to Rickard Elementary in Williston, thanks to Farm to School grant from the USDA. The grant allowed Lynelle Johnson, Food Service Director for Williston Public School District No. 1, to bring in the Maslins to set up one of their SuperGrow Systems in Rickard’s library.

The four-tier rack system, invented by the Maslin’s father Andy, uses a patented growing technology which makes it possible to grow and harvest lettuce, basil, herbs and other vegetables in as little as 18 days. Johnson said the school plans to use the grow system to provide those vegetables and more for the school’s salad bar, giving the students a lesson in where their food comes from..

District 1 K-6 Library Coordinator Leslie Allen said all the students will be responsible for tending to the garden, learning how to work the soil, plant seeds and harvest the vegetables.

“We’re going to come up with a calendar,” Allen told the Williston Herald, “At first it’s going to be fourth grade we’re going to teach, because they’ll be the most capable of understanding the process. But we also want to use them as buddies to help the younger kids, too. So we’ll come up with a calendar for the rest of the school year, and everyone will get their chance to help.”

The SuperGrow system is an all-organic system, allowing the school to re-compost and re-use the soil for possibly up to 10 years, according to the Maslins. Andy Maslin said the soil can be used for around four growing cycles before it needs to be composted, which is done in about 45 days, leaving the soil ready to be used again. Using this system, Johnson said, the school will be able to produce nearly 300 pounds of lettuce every year for the school’s salad bar.

Rickard is the first school in the district to receive one of the growing systems, but Johnson said two more of the four-tier racks will be set up at Lewis and Clark Elementary sometime in the future. The hope, she said, is that the program proves successful enough to set up systems in all of the district’s schools. The racks will be stationed in the school’s libraries in order to give equal access to all students.

“Long term, I’d like to have them in K through 12,” Johnson said. “We have salad bars in all of our schools. We serve fresh produce every day already, so the more that we can use of our own, the better.”

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