US (WI): Educating students on growing their own school lunch

When it was learned that a $5,000 hydroponic garden could be installed free of charge last February, the Barron Area School Board approved, and a new asset was added to the high school agricultural science classroom.

Just four months later, the garden has already produced two lush crops of leaf lettuce, which were donated to the Barron Food Pantry. Not only had the garden enriched the diets of hundreds of area residents, but it also offered some valuable training for her students, according to Kristin Hanson, agricultural science instructor and FFA advisor.

A donation from the Marshfield Clinic Health Systems center for community health advancement, the system, manufactured by Appleton, Wis.-based Fork Farms, Inc., was offered to Barron High School “to create awareness of the importance of healthy food for good health,” said Emily Brunstad, Marshfield Clinic Health System’s community benefits coordinator.

After the School Board approved the idea in February, the system was set up and operated by the winter and spring trimester agriculture classes, including students in the Plants, Woods, & Wildlife, Landscaping, and Animals, Leadership and You courses.

Students were assigned as teams to check chemical content, test hydroponic nutrients and acidity (“potential of hydrogen” or ph) levels. From the time the seedlings were embedded in growing cubes in the vertical panels, it took from 21 to 28 days to grow each crop, she added.

“Our first harvest was May 5, and the second was June 7,” Hanson said. “Each harvest produced 30 to 40 packages, about half a pound in each bag, or 20 pounds of lettuce at a time." Since it couldn’t generate enough of a harvest to fill the needs of the school’s food service program, the unit’s two lettuce crops were donated to the Barron Food Pantry, Hanson said.

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