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Second Chances Farm wants to take vertical gardening to a new level by offering ex-offenders job opportunity and also fresh vegetables to communities in Wilmington’s Riverside neighborhood. Jennifer Corbett, Wilmington

SOUTHAMPTON — Having a salad for lunch might not be a hassle when half the ingredients are already being grown in the classroom.

Southampton School #2 became one of the first in the area to introduce a tower garden in a classroom this week, where students will take care of the plants.

Inspired by tower gardens that are commonly used to grow vegetables in restaurants and urban farms, Elena Pementel has been using two of them in her Southampton home for three years now. And earlier this week, she donated one of the towers, which costs about $975, to her son Anthony’s fifth-grade class after suggesting the idea of implementing one to school officials.

“My dream is to do it at all Burlington County schools,” Pementel said. “Our kids are the future of America, so we’re teaching the next generation to eat healthier and better.”

The tower garden originated at Epcot’s “Living With the Land” display in Disney World by Tim Blank, its former greenhouse manager, and is marketed by the health company Juice Plus.

Commercial farmer Duane McCarthy, who serves as a marketing director for Juice Plus and educates students on tower gardens, said the tower will teach students that they can grow food anywhere.

“When you start having control over your food, it’s safer, healthier and cleaner,” McCarthy said. “There’s technology here, there’s food. People love to eat, people love to grow. The STEM movement is huge and we’re giving our kids a chance to be a part of that.”

McCarthy helped students assemble the tower Monday morning and talked to them about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, as well as the meaning of aeroponic gardening — a technique in which the plants’ roots hang suspended in the air, and water and a nutrient solution are delivered to them by a mist or fountain.

Within an hour class period, the tower had gone from a collection of plastic parts to a multi-level planter filled with budding lettuce, sage, kale, basil and celery plants, with a basin of water and a small mix of minerals.

“I like knowing where all the food’s coming from and what goes on it,” fifth-grader Chase Henry-O’Neal said. “Going to the grocery store, you don’t always know what they use.”

Teacher Kathleen Brady said she’s looking forward to seeing what lessons her students will learn from tending to the indoor garden.

“We talk about plants and animals in science, so I thought, ’why not?’” Brady said. “Kids will love it, it’s interactive, and the more hands-on work they do, the better they learn.”

“We can grow pretty much whatever we want now. We have light, we have minerals, we have everything,” she said. “To me it’s not only science, but it’s health and nutrition, and taking care of things.”

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