Grow Up Portsmouth

The red and blue Trojans are turning green with the beginnings of a new program at Portsmouth City Schools to teach kids about gardening and food security.

Portsmouth teachers Leonard Poage, Wes Hartman, Tony Lavender, and principal Doug Poage have presented their program, called Grow Up Portsmouth, to the Portsmouth School Board during its regular meeting on Sept. 22. Classrooms at Portsmouth High School are already participating in some way or another, and the plan is to expand the program for students and classrooms throughout the entire district.

“What we hope to do is establish an interest in a program in growing; particularly how to grow food. The way the economy and the world is changing, the way that energy prices are going, people are going to need to grow more of their own food. We hope to get more of an interest up so that students will be excited about doing that, and also develop more career and professional opportunities, ” Lavender said. 

Growing produce in the classroom can also be used as a tool to learn about social issues, such as climate change and food insecurity. 

“Students are learning how to solve problems,” Leonard Poage said. “We were having issues where our cucumber plants were folding in, so they had to research it and figure out plant food and measure it. Each day they have to measure their plants, and turn them if they think it's getting too much sun. It’s really a lot of problem-solving, cooperative learning, and communication.”

During their presentation to the school board, the teachers showed images of garden towers that they will soon be adding to the classrooms. Each tower can grow up to 32 plants.

“As soon as we get the towers in we’re going to try to spread them out around the high school building and maybe a couple in the elementary. The towers themselves have self-contained pumps and water. It comes with pH strips and everything you need to test the water, fertilize, and all those things. You just start the seeds, pop them in the tower and they grow,” Hartman said.

Doug Poage said he would love to see the program help serve the community beyond just Portsmouth School. The food they produce will be used within the district itself, as much as possible, and if there is extra it will be shared with local pantries and programs like the Stephen A. Hunter Backpack Program.

For more information about Portsmouth City Schools, visit them online at, or follow the school’s page on Facebook.