What started out in one of the Wantagh Middle School’s custodial closets has grown into one of the school’s largest academic programs. The students have taken an active role in hydroponics. Wantagh Middle School science teacher Sal Mulé had a passion for this growing method of food production and kick-started the program 25 years ago at the middle school, growing crops out of custodial closets. As the program grew more popular, Mule was able to move into a large science lab, with about half of the classroom taken up by the hydroponics and the other half set up for lecturing.
In Mulé’s classroom, students grow vegetables such as kale, basil, eggplant, and peppers. They are also growing a number of micro-greens, which are getting more popular in the market.
The students are also treated to a sub-division of hydroponics, known as aquaponics, where fish are kept in tanks connected to plants. This becomes something of a self-sustaining system, as the fish waste produces fertilizer for the plants, and the plants both filter and oxygenate the water. The idea of aquaponics is to create a system of both sustainable crops and fish for consumption.
The 2022 Wantagh High School valedictorian, Julianna Rose, will be attending Cornell University in the fall with a major in plant science. She has a distinct interest in hydroponics as a result of working in Mulé’s lab.
“It’s the ultimate payback as a teacher to know that students are getting more interested in this,” Mulé said. “Whether it’s as a career or as a hobby, it doesn’t matter. I’ve had parents call me to say, ‘We need to discuss this hydroponics thing’ because their kid loved this class.”
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