A Success Story
Boys and Girls Club teens harvested their produce from the tower gardens and raised beds in order to serve dinner to the homeless at the Opportunity House in Vacaville, CA. It's service projects like this that are at the very heart of what we're aiming to accomplish with Get Kids Growing. We appreciate and celebrate the abundance that affords us with the tower gardens. We share and connect and serve people in need. Everyone wins.
Tower Gardens bloom in Vacaville
Gardening program goes vertical
When it comes to gardening, one Vacaville group is no longer kicking it old school.
Though it still has a traditional bed behind its Trower Center headquarters, the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club has embraced growing upwards and outwards.
With the aid of technologically advanced Tower Gardens, volunteer garden guru Susan Schwartz and her merry team of youths will soon see the fruits of their labor. And veggies and herbs, too, of myriad varieties.
"We've got tomatoes, lettuce, basil, cilantro, Swiss chard, spinach, cucumbers, green beans and peppers," said Schwartz, ticking off the list on her fingers. "In the future, I'd like to dedicate one tower to strawberries, another to tomatoes, and we still have the garden out back, where I can focus on planting more pumpkins."
Pondering how to get more produce out of the small square footage used in previous years, Schwartz happened to meet up with a Tower Garden distributor. Sold on the 5-foot-tall dynamos that can hold 20 plants, she rushed to tell Anna Eaton, the club's executive director. A short time later, a grant from Kaiser Permanente Medical Center came through and three towers were purchased. Ultimately the goal is to own nine while gaining community buy in to have Tower Gardens all over the city.
"Wouldn't that be something?" she mused, imagining full-grown structures that could feed anyone and everyone.
The space-saving gardens use no soil and just 10 percent of the water a classic garden setup would. The towers do use energy, though, to pump the water from bottom to top, where it showers back down and restarts the cycle. A liquid growth tonic boosts health and the towers' PH balance is checked daily.
The plants grow three times as fast and produce abundantly. The club crew looks forward to the latter, slated to benefit them and the community as a whole.
Boys & Girls Club teens use their first harvest to craft dinner for Vacaville's Opportunity House clients
Just weeks after the initial planting, Vacaville Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club teens harvested their first Tower Garden crops — and turned them into dinner for residents of Opportunity House.
It was a labor of love, participants said Tuesday, their first venture using food from their own garden and the second time cooking for clients of the local homeless shelter.
"The last time we made pancakes, bacon and eggs," said Dashon Allen, 15, as he contemplated making croutons for the large green salad in the works. "It was fun."
Dashon and five other club teens, together with supervisors Susan Schwartz and Melissa Nance, were in on the meal preparation.
The event would be a learning experience for the kids, club director Anna Eaton advised previously, a mixture of gardening, meal prep and cooking, and community service.
Such was one of the reasons for obtaining the Tower Gardens, vertical aeroponic gardening units that produces fruits, vegetables and herbs three times faster than traditional gardening.
On Tuesday, Amara Alcayde, 15; Lio Gonzalez, 16; Guadalupe Varela, 14; Eddie Torres, 17; Chris Andrade, 16; and Allen swiftly peeled lettuce leaves and basil from the towers and added them to the bins of plump cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and onions that had been picked a short time before.
Over at the Opportunity House on Bennett Hill, the group quickly commandeered the kitchen (with the OK of O-House staff). Lio and Chris washed the lettuce and stripped the leaves cleanly from the ribs as Amara crushed garlic for the One Pot Pasta (a mix of linguine, veggies, herbs and olive oil). Meanwhile, Dashon, Lupe and Chris sliced sourdough and french bread into croutons.
Later, there would also be garlic bread and freshly baked cookies for the 15 or so diners.
"When kids plant their own vegetables they want to eat it," explained Chris Island, 11, who helped put the towers together. "Here, we can just grow them and they're fresh and juicy and really good. ... It hasn't even been a week and we've got bushes growing."
Kids can just pluck the produce and eat it, confirmed Schwartz, adding that it promotes healthy eating not just among club members, but their families.
"It's all organic," she pointed out. "It's all healthy."
Eltroy Dennis, 11, vouched for the tasty, fresh goodness of the club-produced fruits, vegetables and herbs.
"When she makes salsa, it's really good," the youth enthused.
The crew knows that, come harvest season, they're likely to be overloaded with bounty. Some produce will be used by the club in its healthy cooking classes, still more will be enjoyed fresh off the towers. The rest will also go to good use.
"We want to go to the farmer's market," Schwartz advised. "And the teens want to go over to Opportunity House and make meals for them there."
The project, she continued, has so much potential, especially if others in the community begin using Tower Gardens as well.
"Helping the community eat healthier, that's my whole program," Schwartz said.
Chris Island assured that anyone working with the towers would love them.
"It's not that much work. It's more fun than work," he said. "And kids like to have fun. You get to feed it, nurture it and eat it (the produce)."
For more information on the club, go online to www.vnbgc.com.
As he worked, Lio explained the importance of the evening's event.
"It means a lot to me," he said. "Volunteering, it makes me feel good inside, makes me a better person."
"I think it's a simple yet meaningful way to give back to the community," he said, throwing lettuce leaves into a strainer. "It's really rewarding."
Over at the garlic station, Amara sliced, diced and squished.
"I really like it. It's really fun," she said, adding that she cooks a lot for her own family. "I really like just helping. It's great that we can use our services to do something good for others."
Observing from the sidelines, Tiffany Pardo, a program director with O-House, said she was impressed with the youths.
"It's a great way for the community to give back to those in need," she said. "We really appreciate their harvest, their work and keeping us in mind."
Future harvests will go toward club cooking classes and snacks, as well as an entrepreneurial venture at the local farmer's market.
For more information on the club, go online to www.vnbgc.com.