WINCHESTER — Second-grader Seth Johnson can’t hide his excitement about what’s growing in his classroom at John Kerr Elementary School.

Hint: It’s a vegetable.

“I love cucumbers,” he said. “I can eat two cucumbers at one time.”

The cucumbers are the result of a tower garden taken care of by Seth and his peers. There are four tower gardens at John Kerr — three in second-grade classrooms and one in an English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, room.

The 20-gallon aeroponic gardens stand 4 to 5 feet tall and use water, liquid nutrients and a soil-less growing medium called rockwool to grow various kinds of herbs and vegetables. The systems have their own water and lighting.

Jackie Hott, parent and community volunteer, presented the idea for the gardens to school officials. Now there is at least one tower in each of the division’s six schools.

“It’s essentially a field trip every day in the classroom,” she said.

Hott, who grew up on Hedgebrook Farm in Frederick County, said the towers allow students to see where their food comes from and offer them healthy options, such as cucumbers, cilantro, lettuce and tomatoes.

“This teaches them to step up their nutritional level and the importance of healthy foods and where these foods come from,” Hott said.

ESOL teacher Amanda Furman said the towers also open up students’ eyes to foods they may never have heard of, like bok choy and cilantro.

As part of the tower garden project, the school holds several salad parties, where students get to eat the tower’s produce at school. They can also take baggies of food home with them.

“They love seeing it, they love trying it and they’re just enjoying it,” Furman said.

Second-grader Edwin Lopez said he took some salad home and shared it with his family.

“My mom ate the rest,” he said.

Oscar Agustin Santiago, also a second-grader, likes how the gardens are indoors.

“If it’s cold, you don’t need to put on your jacket and go outside,” he said.

Second-grader Anthony Lopez said he enjoys the gardens because he likes to grow plants.

Nichole Lykens, Hott’s friend and a local chiropractor, donated three of the four tower gardens at John Kerr. Lykens supports the idea of getting nutrition and healthy foods into the hands of students.

“We saw an opportunity to teach kids how to eat [real] food by growing nutritious plants and vegetables in their school,” Lykens wrote in an email. “We hope this inspires other healthcare providers and local businesses to join us and get involved.”

To learn how to support the tower garden initiative, contact Hott at 540-539-8498 or visit

— Contact Rebecca Layne at

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