SANDY, Utah — Teachers at Entrada High School in Sandy were simply looking for a hands-on way to teach biology and botany. What their students came up with could have a big impact on the community; water efficient community gardens that can be grown where others can't.
"I feel like it's going to be good for the community," said Entrada High School student Elisa Gonzalez. "It's a lot of fun, it really is. Hard work, but it is a lot of fun."
"We had a lot of students that needed credit," added Dave Dau, a teacher at the school. "They needed some information in biology, and they really loved hands-on type of stuff."
Dau and his students purposefully chose a sun exposed, and somewhat harsh location on the campus' south side, to test the efficiency of their gardens.
"The smart money was that this wasn't going to work," said Dau with a laugh. "We wanted to put it in the most inhospitable place to show that, really, we could do this anywhere we wanted to."
Rather than planting in one big plot, each of the plants in their garden are grown in separate bags. Dau said this design uses less soil, is more water efficient, and is better for the plants.
"These plants, when they hit the side of the bag, they actually split off and they actually create more opportunities for oxygen to get into the soil," he said. "So, you have to use less soil to get the same amount of oxygen and the nutrients."
Each bag is equipped with a slow-drip watering system, and was designed to be completely off grid, using solar panels to power the irrigation. But they can also be connected to traditional garden hoses, giving them even more flexibility in their application.
"I just know there are some people that struggle getting fresh fruits and vegetables, and so I just know that they can come here and pick out what they want or need," said student Jordan Case.
Dau said he was happily surprised to see how invested his students are in the project.
"It's like raising a child!" Said Gonzalez. "You grow it, you start it and then once it starts to get to that point you kind of are like proud that it got to that point."
"They just love it, and they get so excited. I had one this morning say, 'Mr. Dau, what is this?' and I said, 'that's a tomato!' And she said, 'that's what they look like on the vine?'" Dau said. "I mean we had been working with them for weeks and she had actually never seen a tomato on the vine, that was pretty cool."
Entrada's goal is to work with partners to install several of the gardens around the community in places that need them most; ideally locations where traditional gardens would not be an option.
Salt Lake City recently introduced a community gardening program called SLC Green Growers. The city has identified city-owned or managed plots of land, "with access to a waterline and other conditions conducive to creating a successful and sustainable community garden."
Residents interested in helping to start and maintain a community garden in their area are encouraged to work with the program.