PHOENIX — At Catalina Ventura School in the Alhambra School District, Janet Ankrum is teaching her students about agriculture — but the lesson doesn't include a textbook.
Students harvest, wash, and blend lettuce they grew into a nutritious smoothie.
“They actually see their science come alive," said science teacher Chieu Tran. Tran, alongside Ankrum, wrote a grant to receive three vertical, indoor gardens for their classrooms. The gardens were donated by the Arizona Sustainability Alliance, through its 'Sow It Forward' program.
Programs Director of the Arizona Sustainability Alliance Julia Colbert says the program started in 2017 as a way to mitigate food insecurity and food deserts in the Phoenix area. Food deserts are low-income areas where the closest grocery store is at least a mile away.
“We really wanted to find a way to bring fresh and healthy food into these areas," said Colbert.
She says the gardens are easier to manage than an outdoor garden and provide the same benefits.
“The growing process really helps to engage them and get them excited about eating vegetables and eating healthier," she said.
Teachers have found that the program has also helped students ease anxiety, by allowing them to take a break during class and tend to the garden.
Students can also take home the fruits and vegetables they grow.
Eighth-grader Emanuel Ramos plans on taking what he's learned beyond the classroom.
"I'm thinking about growing my own garden at home," he said. "Honestly, because it's going to help me a lot and my family."
Colbert says the gardens are in schools across the Valley and the non-profit is always working to develop new partnerships.