Brayden Gullatte places his lettuce seedling in the Tower Garden.
Thanks to a new grant, participants in the gardening program at the Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland County (BGCCC) are getting to see what gardening might be like in the future.
"We recently received a new grant in the form of a Hydroponic Tower Garden so the kids can use science to grow food without soil - just like they might do in space!" says Joshua Propst, BGCCC executive director.
Once fully assembled and functional, the hydroponic garden will allow the BGCCC to broaden its gardening program even more into the realm of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects. Students planted seeds and are now in the process of transferring the sprouted seedlings to the tower structure.
"Along the way the kids will learn about nutrients necessary in the water, lighting from the fluorescent grow lights, growth cycles and more," says Propst. "We are very excited about our program and what we have been able to do so far."
The BGCCC gardening program began in 2016 with a partnership with the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, which is located next door to the Club. The Boys & Girls Club needed a space to teach gardening skills as a part of healthy living, and the church members wanted the church's garden space to be better utilized.
A "Lowes Heroes" grant, along with volunteers from the local Lowes store, helped get the initial garden project started. Children and volunteers prepared garden beds and soil before planting donated plants.
"After the first year of the garden we realized we needed more volunteers and more commitment and involvement from students," says Propst. "We made necessary adjustments to the program by adding two volunteers, Bambi Myers and Robert Thompson."
Myers and Thompson committed to work directly with children two to three days per week to tend the garden. They created the "Green Thumb Club," recruiting additional children into the program and meeting twice per week for consistency.
In 2017, the garden project was melded into a Walmart Foundation F.I.S.H. (Families Investing in Sustainable Health) grant, which helped with continued funding.
"The program had evolved beyond just learning about gardening into a healthy eating program," says Propst. "The garden became a source of vegetables and fruits for a meal program feeding about 80 children and families each week. We also incorporated the fruits and vegetables from the garden into a program called 'Healthy Habits,' which promoted healthy eating and exercise. By doing this, we ensured that every club member was impacted in some way by the garden, not just those in the Green Thumb Club."
For more information about the gardening club or any of the activities at the Boys & Girls Club, call (704) 476-8000, search for "Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland County" on Facebook or visit the organization's website at bgcclevelandcounty.org.
By April Hoyle Shauf
Special to Community First Media