Not space cowboys but space farmers at Katy school

- A Katy Independent SD elementary campus is going to start serving up fresh vegetables right from the science classroom. The school acquired a garden on Friday with space age and space-saving technology.

"I promise to farm like a space farmer."

That's the vow of Sundown Elementary School students, taking up the challenge offered by Nicole's Garden.

"Our mission is to expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables in places that you wouldn't normally think to grow food," says Dr. Noreen Khan-Mayberry, the founder of Nicole's Garden.

Thanks to the sponsorship of the Katy Rotary Club, Sundown students are new caretakers of a tabletop garden. It's like gardening in outer space and a miniature version of what may be the future of agriculture on Earth. It demonstrates to these students that having fresh fruits or vegetables can be much easier and more convenient than preparing a traditional garden outside.

Seed starter pods sit under an artificial light set on a timer, and have a water bubbler providing constant hydration for the hydroponic garden.

"This is going to really, really change the way we teach at Sundown," says science facilitator Bianca Xu. "It allows us to grow from seed, full grown plants, in just a few short weeks. Kids can see the life cycle of the plant so quickly."

Dr. Khan-Mayberry, also known as the Tox Doc, knows how to get children excited about the new technology and how to care for their new garden. Students participate in a planting ceremony where they place the seed pod under the lamp, and top it with a miniature greenhouse cap that will stay in place until the seed sprouts. The plants thrive and mature in a matter of weeks.

"They get kind of big, but you're eating," says Dr. Khan-Mayberry. "Keep harvesting and it grows faster! You just snip it down, give it a hair cut as they call it, and adjust the light so that you have 2 to 3 inches between the light and the top of the plant."

Teachers plant seeds for learning all the time, but Xu says harvesting and tasting the plants from Nicole's Garden will be a very special day.

"From seed to mouth, that's the whole purpose," says Xu. "We want the kids to make the connection that this is where our food comes from, and this is the way food should be."

Sundown is the second Katy ISD school to benefit from a Nicole's Garden, and it's the 6th in the Houston area.

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