By Jasmin Edrington, NFSN Program Fellow

In the 2020-2021 school year, Scotts Miracle-Gro (SMG) partnered with the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) to send 15 hydroponics garden systems to schools across the country. This project came with great success and has been renewed for a second year to provide another 25 schools with the opportunity to enhance their farm-to-school education with the indoor hydroponics garden. 

The GroMoreGood Hydroponics project has helped teachers to educate their students on the topics of food, agriculture, science, and plant growth, but also underscored the importance of community, responsibility, and teamwork — all while having a lot of fun! This hands-on experience has changed the lives of students and teachers as well as increased their love for gardening, science, and healthy eating. 

This opportunity has brought enrichment into many teachers’ curriculum. The participating teachers have always loved to teach about science and with the Discovering Through Hydroponics curriculum, they were able to enhance the learning experience and offered great perspectives about growing plants. Hands-on learning opportunities increase students’ interest in the subject. Teachers have incorporated the hydroponics garden into science lesson plans about life cycles and the parts of plants. At Klamath County, Brittany Rodriquez was able to connect their taste tests to math by “requiring students to convert, and multiply, measurements for recipes.” Many have brought the excitement about the garden into their writing classes, allowing students to strengthen both their language and science skills. At Thunderbolt Elementary School, Tracy Johnston showed her students a documentary about bees, connecting bees to pollination and plant growth and tying it back to their hydroponics system. These connections have created a better understanding of how nature is all connected.

The hydroponics garden has equipped teachers with a vessel through which they can teach their students about responsibility and teamwork. The students have a sense of pride in the hydroponics garden and are often eager to take care of it or plan something new. Students at Poinciana, for example, are highly dedicated to taking care of the hydroponics garden. Even when the teacher, Sherry Ashley, was not there, students watered the hydroponics garden when it was looking dry and sometimes took a few extra leaves to eat in between classes. Alice Burns, a teacher at Bancroft Elementary School shared that the hydroponics garden has taught her students “care and responsibility of a living organism” and says that her students “took pride and felt connected by caring for the garden.” The hydroponics garden has encouraged students to work together to create something beautiful, therefore strengthening their cooperation and communication skills.

Kelly Jensen, from Manuel Lito Peña Jr. School, has 100 students in her after school garden club, where students eagerly attend to learn more about plants, gardening, and healthy eating and want to start their own gardens at home. These students take extra time out of their day to come to her after school program, proving their genuine excitement about the subject. She leads highly scientific discussions, inspiring students to experiment on their own. As many students at Manuel Lito Peña are of lower income families, not everyone has the means to start their own high-tech hydroponics garden at home. This has led to discussion about how families can grow healthy foods in their homes without fancy equipment, encouraging students to be creative and innovative to bring the joy of gardening to their own homes. Many other teachers have also noticed the students’ eagerness to bring what they’ve learned back home.

Students at Thunderbolt Elementary sampling the salad greens from the hydroponics system and taking care of the produce using their pollinator.

For many of the students, coming into the classroom with the hydroponics garden is the highlight of their day. Students are excited to come to school and excited to come to class. Tracy Johnston at Thunderbolt Elementary says that students always come running into her classroom asking “What are we eating today?” Students are itching to play with the hydroponics garden and are enthusiastic about trying healthy foods. “My students beg to be able to taste tomatoes, to eat salad, and to drink green shakes!!” says Tracy. Many students involved in this project are located in food deserts, meaning they do not always have access to affordable and nutritious food. And even the students who do have access to these foods didn’t always like to eat them. Throughout the project, multiple teachers have seen specific improvements in students who disliked fruits and vegetables who have transformed into veggie lovers and advocates of healthy eating. Many students have convinced their parents to use more vegetables and cook healthier meals. At North Andrews Gardens Elementary, the lettuce is growing so quickly that they have delicious lettuce to eat every week and hosted a salad bar using lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs grown in the hydroponics garden as well as some of the students other favorite toppings! She has also noticed that many students who used to dislike salad or didn’t care about healthy eating have started to enjoy the lettuce grown in the hydroponics garden and are more excited about making healthier choices. At Fairfield Elementary, the fully grown hydroponics garden excites the students and attracts teachers looking for healthy greens to add to their lunches.

Students at Fairfield Elementary learn together about Plant Science and how to build their hydroponics system.

The benefits of classroom gardening have impacted the lives of the students and teachers at the participating schools, allowing them to deepen their understanding of plants, increase their access to fresh food, and further develop their social emotional skills. The National Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro are so happy that these 15 schools were able to participate in this program and are excited to see how the schools continue to use their gardens in the future!