Jefferson and Norristown Area School District Unveil Vertical Garden to Combat Food Insecurity 

Through the partnership, students will have greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Since 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified Norristown, Pa., as a food desert community, and the 2022-2023 PA Future Ready Index shows that 73% of the Norristown Area School District student body is economically disadvantaged. The result is food insecurity and a lack of access to fresh, healthy foods that power learning.    

To combat the problem, representatives from Thomas Jefferson University, Norristown Area School District and the non-profit Green Bronx Machine unveiled an indoor tower garden at Eisenhower Science and Technology Leadership Academy on Sept. 19, with two other tower gardens awaiting set-up in other district middle schools. The tower gardens from Green Bronx Machine are aeroponic garden systems that grow food without soil using artificial light and nutrient-enriched water, allowing students to grow, eat, learn about and love their fruits and vegetables all year long. The initial planting includes four different types of lettuce, kale, spinach, and wheatgrass, with plans to diversify the harvest as students become more familiar with the tower garden. Stephen Ritz, Green Bronx Machine founder, also led a conversation with students and community members. 

Dr. Charles Pohl, senior vice provost for student affairs at Thomas Jefferson University, helped bring the collaboration to life. As a pediatrician and Green Bronx Machine board member, Dr. Pohl knows the important role access to healthy food and regular meals plays for children to thrive. When schools installed a vertical garden, 75% of students actively ate more fresh vegetables and 82% now talk about healthy eating with their families, according to Green Bronx Machine.

Jefferson’s Division of Student Affairs provided funding for the fully built vertical gardens, seeds, and other associated costs for Norristown Area School District, including the Green Bronx Machine Classroom Curriculum, which will make the garden technology applicable to all subject matter and content area instruction. The curriculum also includes unlimited professional development so that teachers have access to the support and training they need to ensure the success and sustainability of the initiative. Building on its work addressing food insecurity at Jefferson, the Office of Campus and Community Engagement (within the Division of Student Affairs) will oversee the vertical gardens. In addition, JeffEARTH, a student organization that promotes sustainability on campus through outreach and education, will provide hands-on gardening support to the school. 

See more about the collaboration on CBS Philadelphia.