Students working to make sustainable garden even more eco friendly

Education 21st Century

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSNT) – Some local students are taking their community garden to the next level, making it even more sustainable for the environment.

And they’re using technology to make it happen.

Students in the STREAM program at Manhattan Catholic School have a passion for saving the world.

“We have a big focus on teaching our kids about climate change because they’re going to be the next generation and we want them prepared, not only educated but empathetic to what’s going on in the world,” STREAM Coordinator Patsy Johnson said.

The program teaches students about subjects that impact the environment they live in like science, technology, reading, religion, engineering, arts, and math.

Johnson said it also teaches them ways they can use their skills improve it.

“How can we think about the future? how can we take care of our planet? and how can we take care of the people in it?” Johnson said.

One of the ways they’re trying to be more eco-friendly is their community victory garden that sits behind the school.

It provides fresh, locally grown produce for food banks and their own cafeteria.

While it doesn’t look like much in the winter months, science teacher Tyson Vrbas said it’s a sight to see in full bloom.

“Once this garden gets growing, it’s pretty awesome,” Vrbas said. “I mean you can barely see the garage from over there in the parking lot just because the plants take off so well.”

It’s also award-winning.

Manhattan Catholic School students won a national award for their sustainability.

Growing a garden like this, allows them to decide what goes into the soil, reducing the amount of harmful chemicals polluting the environment and waterways.

And with that award came some money they’re now using to make the garden even more sustainable.

“The garden gets dry, it’s really hard to water and we have rain barrels but they weren’t adequately watering our garden,” Johnson said.

So Mr. Vrbas and his robotics students engineered a self-watering rain barell.

It won’t waste water and will make the produce grow the best it can.

The new watering system will get info from the sensor that’s buried in the ground, which the students installed themselves.

“Once it gets too dry, it’s going to tell it to open the valve up, and then once it gets to the moisture we want it at, it’s going to tell it to turn the valve back off,” Vrbas said.

He said the garden was a source of positivity for the community during COVID-19 shutdowns, and as it’s safe to, wants to open up the garden up to even more people to enjoy.

“It was awesome to have everybody’s spirits lifted a little last year when things were tough and so if we can do that for somebody else, that would be great,” Vrbas said.

The next big project they want to tackle is putting Co2 sensors on the property.

The sensors will monitor the air quality and how it’s affecting the health of trees.

Students will then figure out how to maintain the health of the trees, which of course give us oxygen, store carbon, and stabilize the soil.

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