Forget farm to table. At the Fahey house, it’s common practice to just pick the food and eat it immediately…no preparation required. That’s easy to do when the garden is inside the kitchen, central to everything, and everyone, in the house.
Powers Lake residents John and Krista Fahey are on a mission to raise their two kids, ages 6 and 8, to be as healthy as possible. They believe that starts in the kitchen. More specifically: the garden. Inside—and outside during summer months—the Faheys cultivate two tower gardens, a vertical hydroponic growing system that uses stackable pots to plant various fruits and vegetables without soil. “You don’t need to have a green thumb to make this garden work,” Krista says.
Krista begins by planting organic seeds in rockwool, a spun fiber made of natural materials with a cotton candy-like consistency. When she starts seeing seedlings a few weeks later, she breaks the rockwool apart and places each section into its own home in the tower garden.
Sustaining itself, the garden relies on a drip irrigation cycle that uses and then re-uses water as it cascades over plant roots. But that’s not why the Faheys are making this a part of their lives. “We want to lead by example,” John says. “We are trying to teach our kids the right way to live and eat.”
Krista laughs. “One time, I told Alexa, ‘Stop eating the cherry tomatoes off the tomato garden!’ And then I [thought], wait…what am I saying?”
In the winter, they’ll routinely grab lettuce, spinach and kale for breakfast smoothies. Krista makes a habit of preparing salad lunches for her kids to take to school. And in the summer, they plan their meals based on what’s growing in the garden. Tomato, mozzarella and avocado salads are a favorite. So is homemade pesto and chicken with fresh sage.
“We’re picking these fruits and vegetables and eating them or using them immediately,” Krista says. “I have complete peace of mind as to where my kids are getting so much of their food.”
Growing up in Black River Falls, Wis., Krista lived next door to her grandmother, an avid gardener. “She grew a little bit of everything. But she always had trouble with the rabbits,” Krista says. “She would have loved the tower gardens for that reason.”
Passing through Chicago O’Hare International Airport and you’ll see 26 of these tower gardens, home to more than 1,100 different kinds of plants, many of which are cultivated and used at airport restaurants. Classrooms are also taking advantage of tower gardening. Green Bronx Machine, a nonprofit in South Bronx, N.Y., began as an after-school program for high school students. It’s now being integrated into core curriculum as students grow and eat their own vegetables.
Closer to home, Pine Hill Elementary School in Cottage Grove is also developing curriculum around tower gardens. The school has installed six gardens so kids in preschool through fifth grade can grow, measure and harvest their own plants.
Starting your own tower garden costs between $525-$1,690, says Krista, who’s a representative for Juice Plus+, a food-based nutrition initiative that manufactures tower gardens. But after that initial fee, the price to maintain is pretty low.
Krista and John have some simple advice if you’re ready to dig into tower gardening: “Have fun with it,” John says. “And know you’re producing something so good for your family.”
For information about starting your own tower garden, visit the website here.