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Fawn Mountain uses grant to build grow room
Fawn Mountain Elementary School sixth-grader Jasmine Sanders feels a lettuce leaf from the school’s indoor garden on Oct. 6. Staff photo by Taylor Balkom

Daily News Staff Writer

Children are often told not to eat food that has fallen on the floor — but eating food off of walls is a different story.

Students at Fawn Mountain Elementary School are doing just that, thanks to a $6,000 grant awarded to the school last year by the United States Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association for their greenhouse.

Alonso Escalante, Fawn Mountain principal, said they applied for the funding last summer. They were awarded the grant, which was funded by proceeds of the Haunted Mansion at the Coast Guard base, on Nov. 22.

The greenhouse — otherwise known as grow room — at the school now has vertical growers on the walls, and a hydroponics system complete with goldfish, trout and a few bottom-feeders. Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil, using waste from the fish as fertilizer.

“I think the initial thought was hands-on science,” said Danielle Stosich, a sixth-grade science teacher at the school, “and then to follow that up with having it go across the grades, and each grade having a part in this room.”

From planting the lettuce, basil and broccoli seedlings in wet cotton balls, to inserting those onto the vertical growers and then giving the final product a taste — the students are seeing first-hand how vegetables are produced.  

David Williams Jr., a sixth-grader, said the most challenging part has been handling the seedlings, but he said it’s been “fun to work” in the grow room because they get to see the plants grow from nothing, and “it’s really cool.”

Shayla Christianson, also a sixth-grader, agrees with Williams — she said being able to see the plants grow on the walls, from their roots out, has been a great experience.

“I think it’s important because we get to learn how to grow them and how they grow, and different ways you can grow them — like the vertical beds. It’s surprising that plants like this can grow up and down,” Christianson said.

The students seemed to be particularly interested in the hydroponic contraption, which uses the fish in a tank below, and pumps water through the rock bed filled with plants above it.

Ben Phillips, a sixth-grader, said he knows a lot about the fish tank — specifically, how the fish waste feeds the plants.

“What do we call that?” Stosich asked the students.

“Poop,” the group of students said all at once, with an outburst of giggles filling the small grow room.

“Yep, it’s fertilizer. Exactly,” Stosich said.

Another sixth-grader at Fawn Mountain, Jasmine Sanders, further explained how the fish are involved in the process. She exclaimed “they have a symbiotic relationship” — a close union of two dissimilar organisms, according to Merriam-Webster.

“The fish give off poop, and the plants give off nitrogen that clears the water and basically filters it back to this pump, and it goes through tubes back into the fish tank, so the fish have clean water,” Sanders explained.

Not only are the students engaging in how the plants grow inside their grow room, but they’re thinking about the impacts of gardening outside of the classroom.

“Think about this,” Sanders said. “If (people are) taking care of something, they might get used to it, and kind of break a habit of destroying nature and (instead) kind of (help) it.”

Stosich said at some point, they hope the operation is sustainable for the school — like using the vegetables in their lunchroom — as well as giving the community a taste, quite literally.

“Of course, we’d like to take it into the community if we reach a point where we have enough things growing in here, that we’d like to be able to sell and share with our community,” Stosich added. “We’re doing this to enrich our Fawn Mountain community.”