“It’s rare at middle schools that you can build something real.” – Amy Piller, UA Unison Assistant Principal
We’re on our way! Two weeks ago, a team of 14 middle school students at UA Unison kicked off their semester as the new Teens for Food Justice team.
Three hours before our 4pm start, TFFJ staff and mentors had already arrived to clear out the old and bring in the new in preparation for the science classroom’s final transformation into an indoor farm. When the Unison team arrived, they got to know each other and the mentors over a healthy snack.
Planting the First Seeds
The first of many hands-on lessons in hydroponic farming was planting the seeds of their first crops. Choosing from a wide variety of seed packets, each student seeded 10 herbs, which they will cultivate in hand-built window farms throughout the year.
Sharp, eager and ready to get to work, they hit the ground running, keeping our mentor team on their toes with question after question about the farm. All were excited to talk about herbs they had never even heard of before, and speculated what foods they could learn to make with them. Some students literally couldn’t contain their curiosity, getting up to inspect the big NFT system our mentor team built as a demo in December.
Another put it simply and spot on:
“It’s crazy how nature can combine with technology.”
Caution: Young Scientists at Work
Over the next few sessions, the students learned about the engineering and mechanics of three different types of hydroponic growing systems by assembling scaled down models of the larger structures they will soon build in the room. They worked so effectively as a team that they built the frameworks of five model systems in a single afternoon.
The final step of their hydroponics engineering training was learning how to prepare the nutrient solution which feeds the plants. Armed with gloves and graduated cylinders, they carefully measured and stirred nutrients, and measured and adjusted the solution’s pH balance and eletroconductivity.
In the News
A final high note for the students was the chance to show their progress to Alexandra Leon, a reporter from DNAinfo. The students completed the final steps of their modeling project with their trademark speed, while eagerly recounting what they’d learned. Abdur, a sixth grader, volunteered to tell Leon all about the growing medium, rock wool, that the plants grow in, and the article that followed a few days later further highlighted how much all of the students have already gained from their experience. Read the article here.
Now that the new team has mastered the basics of hydroponics, it’s time for them to build the real thing. We’ll keep you updated along the way!