MANCHESTER, MASS., March 31, 2021—September is usually known as a month in which to harvest, not plant. But at Brookwood School in Manchester, Mass., planting in September means fresh-picked produce will be available to cooks just a few months later.
A hydroponic planting system called Terra Garden is situated in the cafeteria fully visible to students and produces herbs, lettuce, and, most recently, chili peppers. “It’s inexpensive, efficient and very visual,” explains Chris Tighe, CulinArt’s director of dining services at Brookwood, “so the kids see it and can get involved with it.”
The best part? Using the produce in school menus. “The local growing season is very short,” Tighe says. Brookwood is located northeast of Boston, in the direct path of Nor’easters and subject to harsh winters. “We can plan in September and by November-December, we have full-on salad greens. We set up a demo table around Earth Day and again in winter to create a salad made Chef’s Table–style.” Rather than focus on how the hydroponic system helps to avoid cost, Tighe emphasizes the educational value to students. “Science teachers involve it in their classes and it is visual to parents as well,” he notes.
The system used at Brookwood costs about $350. Tighe supplements what it can produce with local greens and vegetables from greenhouse growers in nearby Maine which grow salad ingredients year-round. Tighe also uses a pair of Aero Gardens to grow produce indoors in much the same way as the Terra Garden.