Marisa Campasano, ELA teacher at St. Benedict School, Holmdel.

By Hina Naqvi | Student Reporter, Quo Vadis, Middlesex College

This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory and the NJ Sustainability Reporting project.

Sixth grade St. Benedict Catholic School of Holmdel student, Rylee Mullins,  said the best memories from fifth grade, during COVID,  were growing a salad with a Tower Garden.

 A Tower Garden is an instant garden that  can be grown inside the home year round. It is grown without soil, it is easy-to-use and it is eco-friendly.

Mullins shared her experience about how her class collaboratively worked on growing a Tower Garden and how she learned the importance of eating greens.

She said that not only did she enjoy the experience, but so did the current fifth graders at St. Benedict School.

Summer Green, another fifth grader, said, “I really like the Tower Garden because you can monitor how it’s growing. It takes less time to grow, and I like eating it because it is so fresh.”

Andrew Lane, fifth grader, said, “I like it (the Tower Garden) because plants grow very fast and you can get your food from it. It makes me want to eat more greens because it’s more fresh.”

Fifth graders donated 50 bags of salad produce to St. Vincent De Paul Pantry, Holmdel.

Behind the entire idea of growing a Tower Garden in class was an educator who works tirelessly to help her students learn, grow and become good people; Marisa Campasano, a fifth grade English Language Arts (ELA) and Science teacher at St. Benedict School.

Campasano, who comes from a family of nurses, said she feels a strong connection to the science and medical field. She said she believes that eating healthy is not just about growing fresh vegetables. She shared her story of how she became a member of an organization, which gave her a new perspective on eating healthy. When she lost her father to cancer and her sister became a breast cancer survivor, shortly after, she became passionate about research and finding ways to live a healthier life.

When she had her twins, who were also picky eaters, her cousin in Ohio recommended Juice Plus. Her cousin’s daughter was always getting sick from daycare. Campasano followed her family’s advice without doing much research.

The representative at Juice Plus advised Campasano that she can get the chewable at no cost if she participated in the program. After meeting with the representative, Campasano said she realized the nutrition that these chewable capsules contain.

Salad greens.

The Tower Garden is also part of Campasano’s research. She discovered how educators use them to interact with and teach their students. It is the fastest gardening method and many vegetables are easily grown in less than three weeks after transplanting.

She first started growing a Tower Garden in the comfort of her home. Later, she then introduced it to her elementary school in Westfield.

She said, “This is such an easy way to teach children about where food comes from, to show them that they can grow their food.”

“There’s research that shows when kids grow or are a part of the growing, they’re more inclined to eat it and more interested in eating it. My passion for all of this is something I’m proud I can continue to do,” said Campasano.

This project also contributes to a salad party at school once it is ready. In March, almost 50 bags of produce grown in the Tower Garden were donated to St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry.

The rapid growth of greenery continues beyond producing salad towers. Campasano also works at the Greater Outdoor Learning Center (GOLC) at St. Benedict. The GOLC opened in September 2020, when the world was fighting the challenges of the pandemic, and it allowed classes to gather outdoors for mask-free learning. 

GOLC is designed to allow children to be close to nature. The goal is for children to learn beyond the walls of a classroom and help them develop a sense of assurance and civic responsibility. According to a research paper, “Teacher development through co-teaching outdoor science and environmental education … is beneficial for the development of teachers who are teaching ‘outside’ their comfort zone (outdoors) and expected to focus on skills-based teaching and learning.”

Middle school children (grades 6–8) not only enjoy outdoor learning, but also have the opportunity to earn community-service hours by assisting in maintenance outdoors, with Campasano’s guidance.

This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory and the NJ Sustainability Reporting project.

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