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Rush Springs Students Learning STEM Skills, Marketing Through Gardening

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RUSH SPRINGS, Oklahoma -

A high school science project in Rush Springs has recently turned into the local farmer's market, providing fresh vegetables that are not normally available this time of year.

Eighteen aeroponic tower gardens were built entirely by students, and the project teaches them every aspect of science, technology, engineering and math, and even some life lessons.

Every day the group of kids waters and tends to their budding fruits, vegetables and herbs. The room inside the Rush Springs HS tech barn looks like a well-established laboratory, but just six months ago it was a storage room stuffed with boxes.

STEM teacher Larry Lance got the idea for the project after seeing great success in his own household with his family’s personal tower garden, but only after losing his leg to diabetes three years ago.

“My blood sugar levels are pretty stable now,” he said, “and I feel a lot healthier.”

Lance says the project is a unique fit for his entrepreneurial class's criteria, including fundraising.

“Small town like Rush Springs, there’s not a whole lot of fundraising here,” said Lance, “and most of them will sit here and eat candy and popcorn and stuff. I said we’re going to do something different. You’re actually going to sell something that’s healthy for a change.”

Lance was able to get a grant last summer to pay for the 18 towers. Each holds a tube that carries water and minerals up like a fountain to nourish 28 plant pods, recycling through a timed system. The class has taught students how to apply STEM concepts in daily life.

“I think it’s taught me responsibility personally, and for other people as well, because you have to care for your own tower garden, and if your tower garden doesn’t do well you don’t get a good grade,” said sophomore Tyler Conley.

At just over $500 retail, one tower takes up a fraction of the space of a traditional garden and grows plants 30% faster with minimal energy usage. Lance says his personal garden only increased his utility by about $5 per month, and he recovered the initial cost within a year by not having to buy produce at the store.

Right now, the students are filling a local void by producing fruits and veggies long before the growing season. Customers can come to the tech barn to pick up a bag of lettuce or kale, buy a plant that is ready to transfer to their home garden, or pre-order food or flowers that were just planted, all for just $2 each.

The students have also gained local business sponsorships using their marketing skills to advertise the farmer’s market.

“It feels great knowing the community is supporting us, and it makes me want to go out and do more,” said junior Joni Bare.

In April, the school plans to partner with growers from around the area to create a larger-scale farmer’s market. Lance says the end goal is raise enough money to purchase more towers and expand the project into a greenhouse.

Lance hopes this project teaches his students about a healthy lifestyle, and even if they pursue other careers, they will always know how easy it is to eat fresh.

“For people that want their own produce and know where it comes from, they can set this up and have that,” Conley added.

The farmer’s market will reopen March 24 after the students return from Spring Break. You can find them at the tech barn just east of the girls’ softball field across from Rush Springs Middle School every Friday for the rest of the school year from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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