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Students Lead the Way with Columbus Downtown Gardening Program

Students with plants

November 10, 2023 – Lunch at the Columbus Downtown High School Cafe is anything but typical. Student culinary trainees cook up daily specials for fellow students and staff and ensure they have a quality dining experience. And now, the lunch is not only run by students, it’s grown by them, too. 

The salad mix, tomatoes, and herbs were all grown locally – in a Columbus Downtown classroom by the students themselves. 

“I think people expect adults to grow plants and know how to garden, but I feel like this shows that students know what to do too,” said junior Laiyla Pannell.

The gardening endeavor was led by Pannell and two fellow juniors, Levi Williams and Bryce Simmons. The three of them had very little gardening experience coming into the project, but they quickly learned the specifics of how to grow plants in an indoor hydroponic garden. 

“Before we actually got into the gardening experience, I thought we were going to grow outside,” Pannell laughed. “Through this experience I [learned] what hydroponics is and what we were going to do.”

Hydroponics is a gardening technique that uses water-based nutrients instead of soil. Plants grown hydroponically often require less space and water than traditional growing methods. The students grew their plants in a hydroponic tower which allowed them to grow a massive quantity of plants in a relatively small space. 

When the sprouts are first transferred into the tower, the growing space looks sparse, however Williams said once the plants began growing, it was shocking how many plants they were able to grow in a small space. 

“It took a long time to see results,” Williams said. “But once you finally started seeing progress, you would come in after every weekend and just gawk at how big the plants had become.”

Growing the plants required precision and attention to detail on the part of the students. The hydroponic tower is technologically advanced, but it couldn’t facilitate growth without the students’ close watch. The group had to monitor pH levels and keep an eye on the growing plants’ nutrient levels. Luckily for the trio, they didn’t have to do it alone. 

“When we first started the towers, it was just the three of us,” Simmons said. “But once the plants started to grow more and more, more people started to chip in. By harvest time, everyone was standing around in a circle [to help.]

The endeavor taught students about more than just growing vegetables. They each found strong friendships through gardening and learned about the diligence and perseverance needed to bring something to life. Katie Young, the group’s project mentor, said she is proud of the students and the work they were able to accomplish. 

“I am so proud of them for taking the lead on this project,” Young said. “They took ownership, made new friends, and expanded their palates while learning how to maintain their farm.”

Each of the students took away from the project a knowledge of gardening, both hydroponically and traditionally. Pannell said now that she’s gained the experience, she’s ready to expand her gardening career. 

“I’ve gained more interest through growing the garden,” Pannell said. “Now, I’m actually planning to make my own garden system in my bedroom.”