Farm Towers: Urban Agriculture Goes Vertical

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2017: $1,999.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Auburn Public Schools
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Manager:
Ashton Bohling
Auburn Public Schools

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: nutrient management
  • Soil Management: composting, earthworms
  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Project Abstract

    The farm towers offers a visual for many different discussion points. First of all, the farm tower can teach students about the ability of going vertical with our food production. As our population increases and urbanization increases, we are losing land. We have to produce more food on less land. Therefore, the farm tower can visually show how to grow 50 plants in 4 square feet. The farm tower also utilizes a vermiculture composting system with worms. This is a neat way to teach students about organic matter and the benefits of earthworms.

    Detailed Project Plan and Timeline

    This project will address all three pillars of sustainability in the following ways:

    •Economically Viable: The primary cost of this project is the actual farm tower. Therefore, the costs associated with this project will be minimal after the grant. We can sell the produce at the farmer’s market or to teachers to cover the costs of seeds and seedlings. The nutrients will come from food scraps.

    •Ecologically Sound: This system will be self-contained so it will not harm the land, air, or water. It will actually conserve soil and land by using less land. Erosion will be nearly 0% in this type of system as well. This system has less water loss due to evaporation and the water is recycled through the system.

    •Socially Responsible: This will teach students about producing their own food, which will increase the local food movement. Some of the produce will also be donated to students in need in our community.  Students will learn several lessons and practices through the farm tower project.

    •Students will practice their problem solving and critical thinking skills as they construct the pieces of the farm tower.

    •Students will learn about plant selection and pollination as they select plants that can be grown in the farm tower without pollination, or by hand pollination.

    •Students will learn about vermiculture and the benefits of organic matter.

    •Students will learn and observe how earthworms can play a role in tillage of the soil without high intensity tillage operations.

    •Students will learn how to collect earthworm for a vermiculture system.

    •Students will lean how to compost food scraps from the cafeteria.

    •Students will learn how to plant seeds and transplant seedlings.

    •Students will learn how to monitor plants for diseases, pests, and deficiencies.

    •Students will learn how to harvest crops.


    •March 2017: Farm tower will be ordered. Seedlings will be started in the greenhouse so that our farm tower can begin growing produce as soon as possible.

    •April 2017: Farm tower will be planted with lettuce, spinach, kale and other greens.

    •May 2017: The first greens should be ready to harvest from the farm tower in the middle of May. Students will be able to sample the first set of lettuce, spinach, kale, and other greens produced. The remainder of the produce will be donated to the school cafeteria or families in need.

    •Summer 2017: Food will continue to be grown throughout the summer and donated to families in need. If we cannot get in contact with a family in need, produce can be sold to teachers or at the farmers market. Volunteer students will take care of the farm tower throughout the year. This general trend will be continued throughout the school year.

    Resources Used

    •Garden Tower Project Website: We will use the information on the Garden Tower Project website ( to learn about the growing system and how to set it up.

    •Yelm Earthworms and Castings Farm Website: We will use information from Yelm Earthworms and Castings Farm Website ( This website provides a variety of resources on acquiring and raising worms, as well as vermiculture and composting practices.

    •Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada: There is a great resource published by Glenn Munroe of the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada ( that contains information on the benefits of vermicomposting, as well as suggested methods. In addition, it contains a list of numerous other resources that can be used.

    •Nebraska Extension Website: We will use this website ( as a resource for managing our vermiculture system.

    •Gary Lesoing: Our county extension agent, Gary Lesoing, will be included in the project if we need suggestions on growing methods or if we encounter diseases, pests, or nutrient deficiencies. If he cannot help us, he will be able to refer us to another expert.

    •Vaughn Hammond: A local orchard manager, Vaughn Hammond, will be asked to provide suggestions and feedback on our project. He is a great resources for alternative methods for learning and growing.

    •Southeast Nebraska Community Action Program: We will work with this organization to donate some of the produce we grow to students in need in our community.

    •Catholic Social Services: We will work with this organization to donate some of the produce we grow to students in need in our community.

    •Auburn BackPack Program: We will work with this organization to donate some of the produce we grow to students in need in our community.


    This project will be promoted in several ways. Below are several examples.

    •Students will write a news article to be placed in the Auburn Newspaper. This article will include information about our grant and funding, as well as how we are utilizing the farm tower. Students will use this opportunity to discuss the benefits of the vermiculture system and the importance of local foods.

    •Students will utilize social media (Auburn Ag Education on Facebook and AuburnFFA Twitter) to share updates about our project. We will post pictures of the farm tower, the worms, and the produce that we grow.

    •Students will display our Farm Tower at the Auburn Home and Garden show. This will give students the opportunity to talk with at least 50 community members about the benefits of vermiculture, using food scraps, earthworms, and the local foods movement.

    •Students will create a handout for the Auburn Home and Garden Show on the benefits of this growing system.

    •The Plant Science class will be asked to debate several systems in class. This will include hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics, and vermiculture, as well as other alternative growing methods. Each group will need to develop a poster about their growing method and then try to teach the class, as well as convince them that they have the best growing method.

    •I will create a lesson on vermiculture to share with agriculture teachers on the Communities of Practice website for agriculture teachers across the United States.

    •Currently, the Plant Science class works with the 3rd grade class at Calvert Elementary. The 3rd grade class has a hydroponics system. When the Plant Science class teaches the students about growing the plants in the hydroponics system, they could also teach them about the vermiculture Farm Tower system.

    Student and Community Impact

    This project will have a strong impact on students and on our community.

    •Students will learn about alternative growing systems, as well as the benefits of earthworms and vermiculture. In order to measure this, students in the 8th Grade Agriculture, Introduction to Agriculture, and Plant Science courses will take a pre-test and a post-test.

    •Students will be able to impact hunger in our local community through growing produce on the Farm Tower. We will weigh the produce and record data.

    •High school students will teach 3rd grade students about the benefits of earthworms. In order to measure this, 3rd grade students will take a pre-test and a post-test.

    •Local community members will be exposed to Farm Towers and the benefits of vermiculture. This will be measured by how many people stop at our booth and interact at the Auburn Home and Garden Show.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Engage students with alternative growing systems, as well as the benefits of earthworms and vermiculture.
    2. Conserve soil and land by using less land and having minimal erosion and water loss due to being a self-contained system.
    3. Positively impact hunger in our local community through growing and donating produce on the Farm Tower.
    4. Foster teaching opportunities for high school students, who will teach 3rd grade students about the benefits of earthworms.
    5. Introduce local community members to Farm Towers and the benefits of vermiculture through a booth at the Auburn Home and Garden Show.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.