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Why Sustainable Hydroponics And Aquaponics Needs STEM Grant Funding?

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

COVENTRY— Tucked away on the second floor of Coventry Middle School is a room not like any other in the school.

This past summer construction got underway to convert a non-utilised former chemistry lab into a controlled environment agricultural greenhouse, said Coventry Middle School teacher Jim Trogdon.

Funding played a huge role, he said, in determining when the project could become reality. The approximately $50,000 project was fully funded by grant money, which Trogdon said he has been saving up the past four years. He said he received the Adelstein Award along with grants from GPD Group Employees’ Foundation, the GAR Foundation, Lowe’s Toolbox and the Coventry Schools Foundation.

controlled-environment agriculture and hydroponic growing is the best way for students to learn about sustainable farming practices
Hydroponics gardens in classrooms!

Starting out, Trogdon, who has been teaching in Coventry Local Schools for 22 years, said he had a 20-gallon fish tank on a desk with a light over it several years ago to grow some plants. He said his class has come a long way from that setup.

“For kids to see this progress is so important,” Trogdon said. “Often times they don’t get to see a project through.”This year is a learning year for the greenhouse, Trogdon said, as he has 10 eighth-grade students helping him during their independent study period. “They [the students] know what needs done each day,” Trodgon said. “They have a checklist, which helps them out.”

The greenhouse room is kept at 75 degrees F, he said, and there are several sections of plants with large lights overtop. Each section of plants also has a water tank below it, as this system of growing is known as hydroponics, Trogdon said.

He added he and his students have been working closely with CropKing Inc., of Lodi, which specialises in controlled-environment agriculture and hydroponic growing. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” Trogdon said.

Students during the first semester grew cucumbers, tomatoes, peas and lettuce, Trogdon said. Just before winter break, the students cleared everything out and then planted new items Jan. 6, he said. Some of the items currently growing include Swiss chard, basil, bibb lettuce and romaine lettuce. Within the greenhouse there is a small nursery area where Trogdon said plants get their start before being transplanted.

“When I see kids working in here I know they are going to take that knowledge and use it somewhere else,” Trogdon said. “That is real learning.”

Students have also launched an Instagram account, which can be found by searching coventrygreenhouse on Instagram.

  1. This school year is the first year for a new controlled environment agricultural greenhouse at Coventry Middle School where students have been growing a variety of plants.

“We are spreading awareness of what we are doing in here,” said eighth-grader Ava Tripodi, who helps with the social media account.She said prior to being involved with the greenhouse, she never had plans to do anything agriculture related in the future.

“It kind of opened my eyes,” Tripodi said. “I never knew you could do it inside like this.” Eighth-grader Sarah Becker said the atmosphere in the greenhouse is so calming for her. “You walk in here and it is all colourful,” Becker said. “I love all of the colour.”

growing fresh produce hydroponically in schools can help communities and school become advocates for increasing sustainability in schools overall for students and other partners
So much fresh produce!!

Other students helping out in the greenhouse said it is a lot of fun and it gives them a break from sitting in a traditional classroom. Trogdon said he drinks his coffee in the mornings in the greenhouse and said many other staff members spend time in the room because of the calming atmosphere.“I just love gardening period and watching things grow,” Trogdon said.

Dante D’Avello II, a field tech for CropKing, stops in once per week to check on the greenhouse. He said what has been built in Coventry is a great use of grant money. “The whole goal is getting kids growing,” D’Avello II said. Currently there are not many young farmers out there, D’Avello II said, which would be impactful in the future. “If people want local food, you have to grow it,” D’Avello II said.

Trogdon said he has worked closely with EarthEcho International, which is an environmental nonprofit organisation founded in honour of oceanographer Philippe Cousteau. Trogdon and his students had an opportunity to videoconference with Philippe Cousteau Jr., who is the grandson of Jacques Cousteau. Trogdon said Cousteau Jr. also came to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park with his class in 2017 to plant trees and test the water quality of the Cuyahoga River.

Cousteau Jr. sent Trogdon the following comment about the greenhouse in Coventry: “The greenhouse is a testament to the power of EarthEcho’s programs to empower teachers and their students to transform their communities for the better. Jim brought his experience with sustainable agriculture through EarthEcho Expeditions to Coventry and changed the landscape of the entire school from the curriculum to the building itself.”

Also within the greenhouse, work is underway to install an aquaponics system, which uses bacteria-treated fish waste and nutrients to help plants grow, Trogdon said. Trogdon said the idea for the aquaponics system came about when he traveled to Southern California for an expedition to address the water crisis there. The expedition, called “Water by Design,” gave him the idea to start the aquaponics unit, he said.

The cafeteria has been utilising the greenhouse, Trogdon said, by using lettuce and other items in salads for lunches. He said the greenhouse has been a popular place for teachers, too, as they are making salads for lunches using plants from the greenhouse.

Behind the middle school is a 10-acre bog, which is owned by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Trogdon said. He said the school was recently granted permission to access the bog and a walkway is going to be constructed around it this spring. Within the bog there are three endangered species, he said, and the goal is to bring some of the plants growing in the bog inside and eventually plant some of the items grown inside in the bog.

Trogdon said he is grateful to the administration and superintendent for supporting him with this project.Coventry Schools Superintendent Lisa Blough said the district is very fortunate to have an educator like Trogdon.

“Mr. Trogdon continues to bring new ideas and engaging learning opportunities to the students in our district,” Blough said. “The hydroponic classroom that he and CropKing have created is simply awesome. This unique setting encourages students to learn through exploration, collaboration and experimentation.”

Trogdon hopes to expand his vision by working with the school administration and high school staff to develop a greenhouse for the high school. “Really, every school should have this,” Trogdon said.

Photos: Eric Poston

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