Starting from Scratch: Pilot program teaches Anchorage students how to grow their own food

Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 7:12 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The weather outside would suggest Alaska’s growing season has come to an end, but you wouldn’t know it inside Mason Simmers’ classroom at Denali Montessori Elementary School.

Friday was planting day for the combined class of fourth, fifth and sixth graders. It was the second time this year students filled a hydroponic tower full of plant starts and watched them grow. Lorrie Irwin, a volunteer at the school, oversaw it all.

“Last week the kids did the harvest and so whole tower got taken down and they got to eat everything that they had grown,” Irwin said. “And so this week we do the planting again, so they can get started.”

Irwin has worked with the district to create a pilot program called “Starting from Scratch”, with the aim of teaching young people how to grow their own food. Irwin, the founder of the nonprofit Space Farming Institute, said the concept for the classroom is very similar to how food could be grown in space.

Irwin comes to class every Friday to help students measure and monitor plant growth. Her one-hour lesson plan covers a variety of STEM subjects.

“They learn about math, they’re learning about agriculture, we also teach chemistry,” she said. “It’s a basic introduction and it helps prime them for later in life.”

Irwin said the new plants in the tower should be ready for harvest in about seven weeks, but would ready for nibbling in about two.

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