Gardening to Go • Entrada High Students Build Portable, Solar-Powered Community Garden Kits

Generally, if you are planting a garden, you choose a patch of land with good soil, an optimal mix of sunshine and shade, and access to water.

But the challenge facing botany students at Entrada High School was to brainstorm a hassle-free “garden-on-the-go” solution that, with minimal effort, could take root and flourish practically anywhere. So, they picked the most uninhabitable strip of sun-scorched blacktop on campus as the testing ground for their portable gardening kits: a collection of felt bags with established plant starts in compost-enriched soil, which is irrigated by a solar-powered drip system.

Two weeks into the experiment, 200 healthy tomato, pepper, cucumber, and squash plants have already begun producing blooms and fruit and the students have acquired a greater appreciation for where their food comes from — an appreciation they hope to share with the community.

“Our goal now is to make these garden kits available to schools, senior centers, or community groups,” said Entrada High Assistant Principal Mark Mataya. “Not everyone has the tools, resources, or know-how to plant a community garden. The idea behind these kits is to make it easy and affordable while taking all the guesswork out of it.”

The kits can be custom-sized to fit any location, from an urban apartment patio to a large vacant lot. No onsite irrigation or electricity is necessary. The standalone watering system — a large food-grade barrel of water that feeds a solar-powered slow-drip system — is completely automated and designed to keep plants alive with minimal amounts of H2O.

Call it a greener way to garden, no green thumb required.

The idea germinated as a means to provide students hands-on experience with some of the concepts they learn in biology and has blossomed into something to help them feel more connected to their community.

“I feel like it’s going to be good for the community,” Entrada student Elisa Gonzalez told FOX13 News. “It’s a lot of fun, it really is. Hard work, but it is a lot of fun.”

David Dau, a teacher at Entrada, is the mastermind behind the kits, which are designed to optimize water use while also requiring less soil. But he credits his students for bringing the idea to life.

“There was no guarantee that this experiment would work,” Dau said. “The students surprise me every day with new ideas, and it’s been exciting to see them get excited about the life cycle of plants and healthy foods.”

Organizations interested in working with Entrada to set up a community garden should call 801-826-6675.

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