RACINE – They didn’t know much about it but took the opportunity to grow vegetables inside Horlick High School.
In March, Horlick staff Kelly Goggins and Ana Moreno were asked if they were interested in having hydroponics farmers at the school.
“Absolutely,” replied Goggins, director of the Horlick Academy of Business and Culinary Arts.
Goggins thought it was a great opportunity to introduce a hands-on activity to students, who could also learn about nutrition, food science, and the culinary arts.
Using federal grant money, the school purchased four hydroponic growers. First, Goggins and Moreno, an advisor to the Horlick Academy of Business and Culinary Arts, spent two “extremely stressful” months learning how farmers work, Goggins said. Culinary track students started working with farmers towards the end of the 2021-22 school year and even sold out local salads on Fridays.
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Hydroponics means growing plants using liquid nutrients instead of soil. The seeds receive 24 hours of light and water each day, and farmers can produce 28 pounds of crops in 28 days. Hydroponic systems require constant maintenance to ensure that water levels are correct, that the seeds are planted correctly and that the equipment has not moved.
Students planted and cultivated a variety of vegetables, which can be eaten on their own or used as versatile ingredients for dishes like the breakfast burrito.
Horlick’s staff wanted to plant as many different seeds as possible so the students could stretch.
“Giving kids the opportunity to try different ingredients and what you can do with different ingredients broadens their horizons,” Moreno said.
Goggins said the students were unfamiliar with some of the products and were initially reluctant to try them, but that changed once they tasted items like hummus (made mainly of chickpeas) and basil pesto.
“They didn’t want to eat it at first,” Goggins said.
Once the students realized they had an active role in growing plants, they got involved and had friendly contests about who could produce the best vegetables.
“When the kids feel like they’re planting something, when they feel like they need it here at school, it’s like, ‘This is my plants section,'” Moreno said. I can make sure those grow, “there’s that extra level of buying.”
The staff said the most satisfying part was seeing the students’ enthusiasm for growing and cooking. Moreno liked the proud look on the students’ faces when they made a delicious item that someone else enjoyed.
Moreno and Goggins said working with hydroponic growers ideally helps students own their own business and enjoy healthy food, which can be beneficial for the rest of their lives.
Hydroponic vegetables can play a small role in providing access to healthy food, especially in urban areas like Racine. More than 70% of Horlick’s students are economically disadvantaged.
“Living in the food desert here, it is not very easy for people to get to somewhere that offers healthy food,” Moreno said. “These are lifelong skills…We are trying to teach the importance of not only eating healthy, but that healthy food can be delicious.”
Details are still to be determined, but Goggins and Moreno said they plan to make some of the school’s products available to local residents in the near future. “Why not give back to the community if we can?” Moreno said.
The 2022-23 school year started a few weeks ago, and students began working with hydroponics farmers this month. The four growers will likely be on staggered 28-day cycles so that fresh greens are available each week.
Staff will help out with the first few growing sessions, but Moreno said students should be able to “get into a groove” by the end of the school year and lead the hydroponics process.
Hydroponics is a new aspect of the curriculum, but there are plans to become more integrated. Moreno said hydroponics is intended to be the basis of a capstone project for seniors at the Academy of Business and Culinary Arts, as it can include all four tracks: cooking, business, marketing, and accounting. For example, culinary students grow plants, business students can distribute some products, marketing students can raise awareness about food choices and accounting students can keep track of sales.
After moving to a new topic, staff and students have grown together over the past six months.
“We live and learn,” Goggins said.
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