Garden Towers

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COLUMBIA - Elementary students in Columbia Public Schools will compete this spring to see who can grow the biggest head of lettuce.

The kids grow lettuce, cilantro, basil and more in garden towers, which provide a controlled environment to grow plants and vegetables indoors. The kids will compete with Mike Szydlowski, the K-12 Science Coordinator for CPS, to grow the largest head of lettuce. 

Szydlowski said he tends to one of the garden towers in the CPS central office. 

"They can change the lighting if they want, the timing. They can change the level of nutrients. They can change how long the pumps on, and they're going to try to beat me on how much lettuce that they make," Szydlowski said. 

He said the garden towers allow kids to see all parts of the growing process.

"We get to pollinate. We don't have any bees in here, so we can't do any plants that have fruit unless we self pollinate," Szydlowski said. "They can take Q-tips to act as bees."

The Columbia Public Schools Foundation gave the schools enough money to fund the garden towers for another year. 

Members of the foundation presented a check for $2,000 to students at West Boulevard Elementary School. A large portion of the fund - $1,800 - came from the Lucky's Bags for Change program. 

Lucky's gave wooden dimes to customers that used reusable bags, which they could then choose to donate to a local nonprofit organization. Lucky's doubled the amount raised through the program. 

Cindy Mustard, a member of the Columbia Public Schools Foundation, said the garden towers are a great way to promote healthy eating in the schools. She said the kids will get to enjoy eating the vegetables they grew sometime next week.

"We were asking them, 'What do you want on your salad? What do you put in it?' 'Oh, tomatoes, celery and carrots'," Mustard said. 

Foundation members said they would like to continue to fund the project for as long as they can.