Science with a side salad: Students at area public schools compete in vegetable growing contest

Friday, Jan. 20, 2017

OLATHE — Ready! Set! Grow! Starting Feb. 17, students at more than 158 schools and other organizations in Greater Kansas City can compete at growing leafy salad greens for a contest organized by Kansas State University Olathe and the
K-State Horticulture Research and Extension Center-Olathe.

Willie and the Wacky Salad Bonanza Contest challenges student teams to grow the largest amounts of Melody spinach, Lacinato kale and black-seeded Simpson lettuce plants in one shared container during a 49-day time span. The contest is designed to teach students the science involved with plant growth and help them form a better connection between food production and personal consumption, said Martha Nowak, K-12 coordinator at K-State Olathe.

"This project seeks to explore the carrying capacity of a container garden," Nowak said. "Students are expected to document their practices of plant growth so that at the end of 49 days, the plants' biomass will be determined and divided by the volume of the container. This is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards and makes education concepts more project based and more hands-on."

Once the advisor registers online, teams are given seeds for the plants. Students decide which growing medium and up to five-gallon container to use. Teams also decide how frequently to water their plants, what fertilizers — if any — will be used, and the lighting and temperature the plants will be grown in. Students then document their efforts throughout the project.

The plants and each team's documentation of their growing process will be judged from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 8, at K-State Olathe by a panel of faculty members and extension agents who specialize in horticulture and fresh production.

Entries will be divided into and evaluated in three categories: Kindergarten through 5th grade, sixth through eighth grade, and ninth through 12th grade. All participants will receive a certificate of participation. The winning schools for each category will be awarded a plaque that features the names of each team member.

"Fifth grade teachers will be especially excited by this contest as one of the Next Generation Science Standards is to ascertain whether soil is required for plants to grow," Nowak said. "Comparing hydroponically grown plants with those grown in soil is a great classroom project."

Visit to register or for more information about Willie and the Wacky Salad Bonanza Contest.