Montreal

Villa Maria students combine science and agriculture with Techno-Farm project

While the students at the private high school see the urban farming project as a nice break from sitting at their desks, they’re also applying what they’ve learned in class.

Students can get their hands dirty and apply scientific concepts in the field

Sophia Dimitrakopoulos (left) and Alissa Couture show off produce harvested from Villa Maria's Techno-Farm. It's the first year the urban agriculture project is in operation at the private high school. (Elias Abboud/CBC Montreal)

Students at Villa Maria High School are preparing for their first fall harvest at the new Techno-Farm.

They have been volunteering during lunch and after school to get their hands dirty and learn more about composting and urban agriculture in the 2,000-square-foot garden.

While the students at the private high school see it as a nice break from sitting at their desks, they're also applying what they've learned in class to the project.

Using sensors to detect temperature and humidity in the soil, this first year of the Techno-Farm's operation was all about testing which crops would grow best in the garden, and under which conditions.

"This was our year to see what works and what doesn't. And already we see mostly everything worked very well," said Alissa Couture, 13. 

The Grade 9 student said she enjoyed working with technology to conduct experiments growing sprouts at different moisture levels.

Grade 9 student Alissa Couture said she enjoyed experimenting with different soil conditions to grow crops in the garden. (Elias Abboud/CBC Montreal)

Students started working on the project this summer. Not only are they working in the garden, they are also in the lab — conducting data analysis and using control variables to scientifically track their progress.

"It's really amazing to see their faces light up when the realize what they've learned in class actually works with plants," said André Cholmsky, one of the teachers overseeing the project.

The Techno-Farm is set up to be a hands-on experience using the concepts they learn about in their science, technology and math classes.

For example, Cholmsky said students learn about the chemistry behind composting and how the circuits in their moisture sensors work in Grade 10 science classes

So far, the program has been a big hit with students.

"I love it. Every day at lunch I'll come out to work on the garden," said Grade 9 student Sophia Dimitrakopoulos.

"I've learned that technology can really help a garden in many different ways."

A variety of peppers harvested from the Techno-Farm. (Elias Abboud/CBC Montreal)

They also get a sense of accomplishment seeing the seeds they've planted grow into tomatoes, peppers, berries and eggplants, to name a few of this year's crops.

Before they wrap up for the season, they're farming pumpkins, corn and peas together to learn how the three crops complement each other's growth.

They'll also harvest what they've grown to take home for their families.

While this year's harvest was a series of experiments, next year they will take what they've learned to grow larger amounts of produce.

The school plans to donate that larger harvest to local food banks.

With files from CBC reporter Elias Abboud

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