NEW PALESTINE — A cutting-edge gardening system used by NASA astronauts will soon come to Brandywine Elementary School, thanks to a teacher who pursued a grant to help purchase the indoor grow tower.
Darcy Rund, a fifth-grade teacher, received a Voya Financial Unsung Heroes Grant for Innovative Teaching Program award of $2,000 to help buy the supplies needed to create and care for an aeroponics garden.
Aeroponics using an air or mist-type environment to grow plants rather than soil.
Michael Zahm, a financial advisor from Voya Financial, presented Rund with the grant at the school recently.
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Voya Financial awards grants to kindergarten through 12th grade educators nationwide to honor innovative teaching methods, according to a press release.
Rund worked with fellow teachers Doug Brinker, April Manning and Sandy Nichols to help secure and bring the learning experiment called “Tower Garden, Lets Grow” to the school.
Students will now be able to plant and grow an indoor garden, year round, through the latest state-of-the-art aeroponics system — the same kind astronauts at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration use on the International Space Station.
The students will grow plants in the aeroponics’ eco-friendly atmosphere. An aeroponics system is considered the next generation of urban farming and can grow three times as fast as an outdoor garden, Rund said.
An aeroponics garden is supposed to grow more colorful and tastier produce, and the students will get to find out first hand if that’s true.
Rund plans to use the system to produce fruits and vegetables on a cart, so the garden can move from one classroom to the next.
“I’ve always wanted to work with kids and teach them how to grow their own food and be self sufficient,” Rund said. “This is so exciting.”
She found out about the gardening opportunity through Betty Tonsing of Greenfield.
Tonsing is a researcher and international development specialist and has an aeroponics garden.
“It’s a fantastic learning opportunity that makes the classroom come alive,” said Tonsing, who has a Ph. D in history.
Tonsing also works with educators to facilitate interaction with scientist in Antarctica who use the system.
Rund said the indoor garden will provide many learning opportunities for students, including giving them a chance to grow and eat new fruits and vegetables, some of which they may never have eaten before.
In addition to learning gardening skills, students will study immune and cellular systems of the body, and learn why plant-based whole-food choices are essential for growth, all while being engaged in a fun learning environment that promotes healthy choices, Rund said.
This kind of educational opportunity is great at helping students get engaged in the classroom, Principal Rhonda Peterson said.
The Brandywine application was among 100 selected from more than 1,200 nationwide. It now has a chance to compete with other finalist for one of the top three prizes — an additional $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000 from Voya Financial.