Salad contest feeds K-12 students' scientific curiosity, STEM knowledge
Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021 | Written by Greg Tammen
OLATHE — Grow big or go home was the motto of this year's Willie and the Salad Bonanza Contest, which concluded on Nov. 6.
The annual contest challenges teams of elementary, middle and high school students to grow the largest quantity of select leafy greens from seeds in a single container over a 47-day time span. After 47 days, each team's greens are measured and weighed at Kansas State University's Olathe campus and the documentation about their growing methods is evaluated.
"The contest is designed to teach students about 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 and contest organizer. "Students were able to apply concepts about plant growth that they have learned in school into a hands-on project that let them see the effects of their knowledge and decisions."
The contest, which aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards, is a collaboration by Kansas State University's Olathe campus, Food Science Institute, department of horticulture and natural resources and the K-State Horticulture Research and Extension Center, along with Compass Minerals, Missouri Organic Recycling, 4-H and public schools.
Participation in the contest had more than 150 registrants, Nowak said.
The winners in each division were determined by taking the harvested biomass in grams divided by the volume of the container in which it was grown. Each declared winner had the highest density number.
Winners of the 2021 Willie and the Salad Bonanza Contest are as follows:
First place — Colin Edelman, Zoe Weddle and Faith Snook of Olathe East High School, with sponsor Jacob Sawyer. The team used a 50/50 mix of potting soil and compost provided by Missouri Organic Recycling as the growth medium. They also used a general hydroponic fertilizer, Miracle-Gro fertilizer and a space heater set to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and ensured that the growing plants received 14 hours under grow lights each day.
Second place – Brenna Chism, Breanna Elman, Brooklyn Bigelow and Miranda Bouphanouvong of Olathe North High School, with sponsor Greg Krenke. The team used a 50/50 mix of general Pro-Mix of potting medium along with compost provided by Missouri Organic Recycling, blood meal, earthworm casting and Compass Minerals Spring Plant Nutrition, along with a greenhouse.
Third place — Tibby Wolfe, Hassan Hassan, Merik Dismang and Zac Bleak of Olathe East High School, with sponsor Jacob Sawyer. They used organic compost from Missouri Organic Recycling, adding general hydroponic fertilizer at start and Miracle-Gro later. Their greens were kept indoors and under grow lights the entire grow period.
Fourth place — Jack Bailey and Abbie Lloyd of Olathe North High School, with sponsor Greg Krenke. They used ProMix Biofungicide Mycornizae Soil, which contained pearlight, peat moss, vermiculite and ground up wood chips. ProAqua Plant Nutrition from Compass Minerals was used according to package directions and the plants were grown in a greenhouse with the average temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fifth place — Kennedy Clark, Emmalee Magruder, Lily Anderson and Caroline Herman of Olathe North High School, with sponsor Greg Krenke. They used a mixture of soil for their base, combining 1/4 from Missouri Organic Recycling and 3/4 of ProMix Biofungicide Mycornizae Soil. ProAqua Plat Nutrition from Compass Minerals used according to package directions. The greens were grown in greenhouse at the average temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
The winning schools for each category will be awarded a plaque with the name of each team member and team sponsor.
Nowak and Olathe East High School sponsor Jacob Sawyer are planning a collaboration that tackles food deserts in the Kansas City area.
Learn more about the Willie and the Salad Bonanza Contest at olathe.k-state.edu/saladcontest.