Tobique First Nation's tower gardens take bloom
Children learning about food and how they can grow it themselves through aeroponics system in classroom
Children at Tobique First Nation are learning about food and how they can grow it themselves through a non-profit company hired by the band to expand offerings for children at the band school.
Kale, Swiss chard, cilantro, the beginnings of eggplants and a lush-looking harvest of other herbs and greens burst from narrow white plastic towers in a classroom.
All were grown using aeroponics systems known as "tower gardens" that the Tobique First Nation put in some classrooms this year.
Now the spring plantings are being picked by the summer camp children.
"I learned that plants are good for you," says a shy seven-year-old Sariyah Perley.
Sariyah says every morning she and her classmates would run into the classroom to check to see if anything had grown.
"We would check all over and then when we found one, we just get real happy," she said.
The seeds are planted in rockwool, a horticultural growing medium, with a sprinkling of vermiculite. The system doesn't use soil. They are then planted in small plastic protrusions.
"This is an aeroponic system and we add water and a nutrient solution to the bottom, and there's an aeration pump, that shoots the solution up here, and it cascades down like rain every 15 minutes, on a timer," said Bobbi-Jo Oatway, who teaches at The Wolastoq Summer Camp.
"The lights are on, 16 hours then, eight hours off.
"The roots grow down below that, so the roots are constantly exposed to oxygen from the aeration, from the pump, so that's why they grow so well. They're getting all that oxygen, and rain every 15 minutes, what a dream for a plant. And light. And as you can see, they're loving life."
The project is one of a number of initiatives started this year by Sky Perley's non-profit company, Wolastoq Education Initiative Inc.
The company was hired by the band to expand what it offered to its children at the community's band school.
Perley says it is part of teaching them about food, where it comes from, and how they can grow it themselves.
"I learned that cucumbers start as flowers and I didn't know there were females, and males," says Lydia Bear Jeanes.
She says she helped pollinate the female plants with pollen taken on a Q-tip from the male flowers.
"So they can turn into cucumbers. And then the males fall off, because it's done."
Oatway says they have had a few problems. One tower of plants died after someone unplugged it to move it out of the way for another event.
And they learned some leafy greens have to be harvested before they get too close to the grow lights, or they get burned.
Children harvested enough kale one day recently to make their own salads, learning to "massage" the leaves with lemon juice and sea salt.
The end result had a few wrinkled noses, but C'Anna Moulton ate all of hers, saying, "It's good. It's like Caesar salad."
The children will soon have to plant germinating peas, beans, kale, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, basil, cilantro, lettuce, spinach, nasturtiums, marigolds, tomato, wild strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, and squash.