Instead of growing food in large rural fields, John Hardin High School agriculture students are farming plants indoors next to their classroom.
Jeremy Hall, an agriculture science teacher, said the farming project, known as Aquafood, was started about a month ago. Aquafood allows students to gain experience in the school’s three agriculture career pathways.
The program was created out of what Hall said is “a need to educate and empower students on the issue of food security as well as solutions.”
The school’s agriculture students have discovered one in five children and one in seven adults in Hardin County experience food insecurity, meaning there is a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life as defined by United States Department of Agriculture.
Students are growing hydroponic bibb lettuce and pea shoot microgreens using a Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponic system inside the school.
An NFT system uses a very shallow stream of water containing all the dissolved nutrients required for plant growth and recirculates the water past the bare roots of plants in a watertight gully, according to homehydrosystems.com.
Once the plants are fully grown, the school’s cafeteria purchases the produce and serves it as mixed salads or in other products to the student body, Hall said.
The other part of the program, aquaponics, is expected to arrive in January. The two aquaponic systems in the school’s greenhouse will raise additional lettuce crops, microgreens, watercress, peppers, tomatoes and tilapia fish. The tilapia supply the nutrients for those crops in a self-sustaining closed-loop system.
Depending on which class they are in, Hall’s students have different responsibilities.
“My greenhouse classes will handle all of the plant growth,” Hall said. “My ag sales marketing classes will handle all of the partnerships, the marketing … my animal science class will take care of the fish portion of it.”
Hall said the classes have to collaborate to make the project run smoothly.
“All these are going to have to work with each other to make sure we’re all on the same page,” he said. “The benefits are just out of this world for us.”
Some students in Hall’s Principles of Agriculture course are enjoying the project so far. Freshman Brayden Hall, Jeremy’s son, said he felt good for providing food for some of the student body.
“We know where our food comes from,” he said. “And I think we can show students where it comes from, too.”
Freshman Shannon McGlone said the project also interests students who don’t have a yard at home.
“They think it’s really neat that we get to grow our on own food,” she said.
Agriculture education students and FFA members are offering workshops and tours of the project to local elementary school students, middle school students and members of the general public who are interested in these types of systems.
Darrin Morris, cafeteria manager, said he estimates he will save about $30 a week on produce costs, especially on lettuce.
“We save the district a lot of money,” Hall said. “We’ve cut out transportation costs. We’ve cut out labor costs. And they’re getting a really good product, a better product, and its 500 feet down the hallway.”
Hall hopes to expand the program in the next few years to Bluegrass Middle School and New Highland Elementary School, the two feeder schools near John Hardin.