Community gardens, equipment to grow plants without soil, and new tractors will soon benefit local students as state Farm Bill grants expand agricultural programs targeted toward youth.

Seven Lancaster County organizations received a total of $61,941 in Pennsylvania Farm Bill Agriculture & Youth grants, announced Jan. 8. This is the fifth year the grants have been funded through the state Farm Bill, and this year they totaled $498,161 across 47 organizations in 24 counties.

Here’s more information about the Lancaster County grant projects:

Conestoga Valley School District, $7,404. A filter system will be added to the district’s freight farm, a hydroponics system that uses a nutrient solution instead of soil, to deliver purified water to the crops grown in a specialized freight container. Kindergarteners through high school seniors use the freight farm, bought through a $180,000 Conestoga Valley Education Foundation grant last year, to learn about food production.

Edible Classroom, $7,452: The Manor Township-based nonprofit will expand its work in Lancaster County schools, supporting two new community gardens at Hamilton Elementary in the School District of Lancaster and the Hill Campus in the Columbia Borough School District. Edible Classroom works with its partner schools to plant and maintain gardens and also helps facilitate outdoor lessons in which students learn about topics like organic pest management and taste their freshly grown produce.

Elizabethtown Area School District, $17,836: A new Kubota L3902DT tractor will replace an outdated model. The new tractor has a front end loader and remote shutoff and will be used by the Elizabethtown FFA chapter and students in the district’s agriculture classes.

Elizabethtown Community Fair, $6,750: The fair will add an agriculture education area targeted toward home school groups and other young fair visitors.

Pequea Valley School District, $7,500: The district will purchase a bato bucket system to house plants fed through hydroponics. A new aquaponics system will demonstrate how to source that hydroponic nutrient solution from the water used to raise fish. Plants then filter the water before it is returned to the tank, creating an ecosystem loop that aids both plants and fish.

Millersville University, $7,499: The university will sponsor a design challenge in which schools or other organizations submit plans for a hydroponic or aquaponic system. Supplies for building the systems will come from grant funds, which will also support promotion and awards for the contest.

Thaddeus Stevens Foundation, $7,500: The diesel lab at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology will gain an 80-horsepower tractor. Three training workshops for Pennsylvania high school agriculture teachers will feature the tractor.

Source: Lancaster Online