• A growing opportunity has Dracut students filling salad bar

    A group of Dracut High School students in late November planted lettuce seeds at Justus C. Richardson Middle School in Dracut, which would produce food to
    A group of Dracut High School students in late November planted lettuce seeds at Justus C. Richardson Middle School in Dracut, which would produce food to be incorporated in the high school s salad bar. The students are also members of the school s Environmental Action Club. SUN PHOTOS / AMARIS CASTILLO

    By Amaris Castillo

    DRACUT -- A group of Dracut High School students in late November bent their heads over a row of soil press seed plates on a long table at Justus C. Richardson Middle School. Slowly and carefully, the teens (also members of the school's Environmental Action Club) planted the first set of lettuce seeds in each hole that, in time, would produce organic food meant for the high school's salad bar and prepared meals for students.
    "It's been growing as hoped and expected, and they have harvested lettuce," Dracut High School principal Richard Manley said last week of the students' progress in the district's greenhouse.
    Dracut High students are using the indoor grow technology through a collaborative effort between teachers, the middle school, and the Food Services Department.

    The company that brought forth the technology is New York-based 2445 Organics.
    According to Andy Maslin, the founder of 2445 Organics, this system takes the "ag farm back into the school" rather than a school busing students to a farm for the experience. It's the first time his company is branching into Massachusetts.
    "This is allowing the farmers to become year-round sustainable and allowing the schools to grow their own foods year-round," Maslin said.
    Maslin said his New England distributor, Todd Bard, CEO of EvanLEE Organics, worked to bring the opportunity to Town Manager Jim Duggan. Bard has previously conducted business with the town.
    "It's a job creator. It's got agricultural and educational components to it, and I think it's a fantastic opportunity," Duggan said.
    "It's really impressive."
    Jacqueline Beausoleil, a junior at Dracut High, described the experience of planting seeds as therapeutic.
    "I really like it," the 16-year-old said. "I want to eat the food."
    Madison Zolkos, 17, said she learned that it's possible to have a "full-on garden" indoors.
    Spiroanthony Stathas, also 17, worked on the first four trays of mixed lettuce.
    "It's fun. It's cool knowing that this will actually be food one day," he said, looking over at the row of trays. "It's pretty cool... happy to give back."
    According to Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone, the indoor growing system patented by the Maslin family relies on primitive soil, meaning that all of the minerals and living organisms such as microbes, bacteria, fungi, and worms are added to the soils without restoring to chemicals and pollutants. Back in November, Stone said the school department will absorb the cost of five racks, which were estimated at $3,250 each (which includes soil and other materials).
    Stone said he felt it was a great opportunity for the district to grow some of its own food. Last week, the superintendent told The Sun the food -- which includes spinach and lettuce -- has begun to be used in the middle school.
    "And a great connection for the students to be able to participate in the process from the very beginning through actually eating the food in the cafeteria," he added. "Also, given that Dracut is a traditional farming community, it's a perfect opportunity to really get your hands dirty, literally, and learn how the whole cycle works."
    Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.

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