Morgan Starkweather loves plants, children and animals. As a second-grade teacher at Plum Creek Elementary School in Hutchinson, she gets to interact with all three.
Along with her therapy dog, Brooks, she keeps two salamanders – Sally and Sammy – and two tower gardens in her classroom.
This fall, one of her students’ mothers helped her obtain a just-under 6-foot-tall tower garden for her classroom. The garden does not use soil. It’s also herbicide and pesticide free.
Brittani McIntire went to People’s Bank and Trust and First National Bank of Hutchinson and was able to garner support to purchase the garden for Plum Creek. She also found a funder for Hutchinson Middle School, Hutchinson STEM Magnet School at Allen and Union Valley Elementary School. Starkweather’s smaller garden was given to her for attending a workshop at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson.
"As a bank, we want to help out our community," said Samantha Smith, a vice president at First Bank of Kansas who sponsored another tower. "It’s a great teaching tool. They’re doing more than I had imagined. It’s awesome."
The large Tower Garden grows lots of different types of greens, while the smaller one grows herbs.
I know more about lettuce than I ever thought I would," Starkweather said.
During the school year, Starkweather had the students wipe the base of the tower, feed it with water and harvest the greens.
"It was fun," said Reagan Lalicker, 7, a second-grade student in Startkweather’s class.
Along with having the children learn about growing vegetables, they learned about the nutrition of greens. And during their salad party, they learned manners and etiquette.
"It’s been a pretty incredible experience," Starkweather said. "There’s a lot of studies that show that when students grow their own food, they have more of an appreciation for the food."
Jhett Biggs, 8, is one of those students.
"He eats a little bit more lettuce than he ever did before," Sarah Biggs said. "We’re going to make a full garden (at home) this year."
But when coronavirus hit, and Starkweather had to teach over the internet, she had to change her plans.
"The students want to know how the tower is going," she said. "It was a natural part of our classroom that we took care of every day."
Starkweather brought the towers home – by truck. She continued caring for them, feeding the salamanders and goldendoodle and raising her three kids. When harvest time came for the tower, she brought vegetables over to her students’ houses and left the plastic bag filled with arugula, chard and bibb lettuce at their doorsteps.
Last week, she let students visit the tower, located on her back porch, and pick their own lettuce, basil and dill. The children came at different times of the day.
McIntire was excited to see the tower when she and her daughter, Kinsley, 8, went to Starkweather’s home.
"I am so happy to see it doing so well," she said.
McIntire’s goal is to get a Tower Garden at every school in Reno County. Until COVID-19 hit, she was working on finding more sponsors so more teachers could offer their students this gift.
"I’m going to help as many schools in our community as possible," McIntire said. "It’s not just sitting in class. It’s exciting. It’s fun learning."
To reach McIntire for help with bringing a tower to a school, email her at email@example.com.