At Raymond Central High School, students enjoy a salad bar stocked with greens sourced from a classroom a few doors down the hall, and the farmers are their classmates. In Katie Donahue’s plant science course, students oversee the production of vegetables — from germination to harvest — using a collection of hydroponics towers that the school district purchased in 2021. This school year is the first that the towers have been used extensively, and Donahue started the year by asking the school’s lunch staff if the crops produced in the towers could be used in students’ meals.
“I was like, ‘If we grow lettuce and tomatoes and other vegetables, would you put it out on your salad bar?’” Donahue said. “The head of the lunch department said absolutely.” Now, the lettuce grown in an indoor nursery at the school is appearing on lunch trays, and plant science student Aleyna Cuttlers said other kids like the idea of knowing where their food is coming from. As a bonus, the food tastes good.
The class meets two or three times per week, depending on the block schedule’s rotation. And Donahue said the students make the jaunt from the high school’s CTE wing to its science wing — where the nursery receives sunlight through large, south-facing windows — at least once per class period. Sometimes they’re there for 20 minutes, just topping off the water supply and mineral nutrients. Other times, they spend the entire 90-minute class block harvesting their crops.
In the nursery, four hydroponics towers are operating, and three sit idle as they wait for new repair parts to arrive. Two have plants growing at the moment — one has small lettuce sproutlings that have taken off in the span of a couple of days. The other tower is growing tomatoes, which were planted at the start of the school year.
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