Bozone Ozone Bus

Bozone Ozone BusIf you can dream it, you can plant it!  We know that gardens come in all shapes and sizes, but have you ever seen one growing on a bus?

bozone ozone busIn 2007, a group of Montana high school students decided to dream big: They designed a “living bus” to accomplish their goal of bringing a garden to every school in their area.  With the help of more than 200 community members, the students converted a full-sized school bus into a mobile greenhouse.

They started by removing the seats from the bus. Next, they constructed and installed planter boxes on both sides of the aisle . Finally, they removed the roof of the bus and replaced it with a polycarbonate A-frame. The ingenious roof design even includes gutters to collect rainwater for watering the plants inside!

Known as the The Bozone Ozone Bus, or BOB for short, this mobile educational greenhouse is now operated by the Bozeman-based nonprofit organization Gallatin Valley Farm to School (GVF2S). In recognition of its innovative design and impactful programming, the BOB program was one of our 2018 Youth Garden Grant winners!

Program Coordinator Ali Thornton shares that “BOB travels to different schools and community organizations across the Gallatin Valley, with the goal of teaching youth about sustainability, local agriculture, gardening, and healthy living. At each school, we present garden lessons that align with Montana’s science standards, so they are easily integrated into the curriculum for all grade levels, K-8.” 

To keep students involved in garden learning while school is out for the summer, GVF2S educators also lead summer camps, during which students maintain, harvest, and cook with the plants on BOB. “Students are able to taste a variety of vegetables, fruits, and herbs growing on the bus while learning about nutrition, compost, pollination, and sustainability,” Ali explains. “Due to BOB’s unique design, students instantly become enthralled with learning about health and foods!”

Bozone Ozone Bus
Inside the Bozone Ozone Bus (BOB)

As an example of the way BOB engages kids, Ali relates this story: “One time in particular, I had a group of elementary students who despised spinach. I asked them why they hated it, and responses ranged from they thought spinach tasted bad to they were too scared to try it. I had every student harvest a leaf or two of spinach from BOB and they all loved it! The act of being able to interact with their food, from smelling it, to harvesting, to eating it fresh, made a huge difference in how they perceived spinach. Some of those students couldn't wait to go home and tell their parents they had tried spinach and enjoyed it! “ 

“A local celebrity,” BOB paid a visit to 2,279 students across seven different school districts and nine partnering community organizations last year, and GVF2S hopes to continue to expand that number in the future.  During each visit, students rotate through multiple stations in small groups so that each child can participate in hands-on, experiential learning. 

This year, GVF2S will also pilot a BOB Youth Educator Internship to empower high school and college students to become more active citizens in their community through teaching and mentorship experiences. Interns help plant the school gardens, take care of the plants on BOB, lead BOB lessons, complete a special community outreach project, and assist with summer camps.

Growing on a bus is not always easy.  Due to the cold climate in Montana, the growing season is limited to April through October — with some help from space heaters during coldest nights.  In the peak of summer, the plants may need to be watered twice a day to survive the heat that can rise above outdoor temperatures.

Bozone Ozone Bus
Map of the interior layout of BOB. Click to make it bigger.

The plants grown in Bob are chosen based on what appeals to the students.  “We always have multiple varieties of leafy greens like kale, spinach, and lettuce, multiple varieties of tomatoes, rainbow chard, chives, peas, and squash. We also include herbs like basil, parsley, sage, and cilantro,” Ali noted. “Something new we're trying this year is putting in an edible pollinator garden, filled with flowers you can eat!” 

Ali shares that through BOB programming, we hope “youth participants of all ages will be empowered to choose lifelong healthy eating habits and obtain skills to grow their own food.”  She also provides encouragement to other schools and organizations thinking about taking on a similar endeavor.  “My biggest piece of advice to someone trying to create a similar program is to reach out to the community! BOB was created because over 200 community members and organizations came together, including youth! BOB was initially a high school senior's project that grew into the greenhouse bus it is now. And now I have the honor of bringing BOB to youth all across my community. So, don't be afraid to dream big with these types of projects!”