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story.lead_photo.caption Russellville High School marquee

The Cole R-1 School District in Russellville has received a $10,000 grant that will be used to purchase grow towers to enhance its science, technology, engineering and math curriculum.

The grant, funded through a partnership between America's Farmers Grow Rural Education and the Bayer Fund, is part of more than $18 million in grants that have been given to public school districts since 2011.

The school will use the grants to buy grow towers, vertical growing systems that allow a higher amount of plants to be grown in a smaller space.

Russellville High School agriculture education teacher Nathan Strobel said he and another teacher had discussed the idea of purchasing the towers. They realized the grow towers would provide something for not just one school, but the whole district, Strobel said.

The grow towers at Cole R-1 will educate students in the process of nutrient consumption by plants and plant psychology in the high school, while middle and elementary school students will learn about photosynthesis and how to mimic the effects of the sun on plant growth using LED lights.

Strobel said they plan to buy at least nine towers but could possibly get up to 12 if they find a good deal. Vertical grow towers can be used to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes and bell peppers.

The towers will provide not only learning but food — Cole R-1 will use the food grown on the towers through school lunch and Buddy Pack programs. When they get the towers later this fall, it will be too late in the year to grow tomatoes, but they'll be able to grow colder-weather plants like lettuce and cabbages, Strobel said.

"We're going to try to switch it up and do a little bit of everything; that way we kind of spread it out and not just have 100 pounds of lettuce all at once," Strobel said.

To qualify for the grant, schools were nominated by local farmers to compete for a merit-based grant of either $10,000 or $25,000. Russellville was nominated by local farmer Terry Heiman.

"He was pretty excited to hear that we'd won it, too, and for him it's kind of exciting that our little school is getting to utilize a grant from a big company like Bayer," Strobel said.

Nominated schools had to submit a grant application describing their STEM-focused project. Grow Rural Education's Farmer Advisory Council then reviewed finalists and selected the winning schools.

A representative from Bayer presented the grant to the school Monday at halftime of the junior varsity football game.

"We're just excited to try it out and see how it works and see how we can get people more motivated to become a part of agriculture," Strobel said.

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