Marfa Junior High students took in the striking sight of 20 acres of cascading tomato vines on a recent tour of Marfa’s Village Farms greenhouse. Sun streamed in through the clear roof as seventh- and eighth-graders peered up at the vertical farm — a real-world operation larger in scale yet similar in principle to the hydroponic farm students have been cultivating in their science classroom.

The “Flex Farm” in teacher Lora Loya’s classroom is part of a Big Bend Conservation Alliance initiative to introduce local students to hydroponic gardening. The stand-alone vertical farm gives students hands-on experience producing greens — they sprout seeds, adjust water chemistry, install a U.V. light, and add soil nutrients. With the help of students, the farm can grow up to 25 pounds of greens every four weeks.

Loya said her students have enjoyed the process of working with the plants day in and day out, from constructing the farm itself and hooking up the water pump to harvesting and packaging the lettuce weeks later. She said the experience of growing their own food from seeds was rewarding, especially when they were able to share the produce with other MISD students.

“The student body was then able to have fresh salads for lunch prepared by the Marfa cafeteria staff,” Loya said. “We received many compliments on the freshness of the lettuce. It was a great feeling for the students to be able to hear such positive feedback from their hard work.”

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