If you want to know what kids at Springfield High are talking about this month, just take a walk through the cafeteria.
Right in the middle, you’ll see a rectangular cart on wheels with racks of red leaf lettuce, Bibb lettuce, basil and other fresh herbs — all grown hydroponically.
In cooperation with the Springfield Vermont school district, Upper Valley Produce and Vermont Hydroponics, Café Services (Fresh Picks Café’s parent company) brought the hydroponic garden cart to Springfield High as part of its mission to promote local eating.
The cart is mostly self-sustaining. It’s lit by blue and red LEDs, color frequencies that are most conducive to photosynthesis, and irrigated by water pumps that keep nutrient-rich water flowing through the plants’ roots.
Fresh Picks Café food service director, Kevin Sullivan, says the cart is a natural conversation starter on food sustainability.
“The kids track what’s growing and how fast,” he says. “Every day, they check in with me to find out when I’m serving food from the garden. It’s great to see them excited about eating fresh food.”
This month’s harvest yielded about 20 pounds of fresh lettuce, which went straight from the cart to the kitchen for washing, before served at the burger bar and salad bar. In the making are recipes for hydroponic basil-based pesto pizza, pesto chicken salad and fresh Caprese pasta—foods that without the cart would fall out of budget because of the high price of basil from traditional sources.
Hydroponic gardens are cost-effective compared to traditional growing methods. They recycle water, collecting what plants don’t soak up and channeling it through the system again.
A well-designed hydroponic system uses about a tenth of the water of a traditional growing operation, explains Vermont Hydroponics grower Grant Jakubowski in the November 14, 2015 edition of the Rutland Herald. Because plants are stacked on top of one another, hydroponic gardens also save space.
Café Services, Upper Valley Produce and Vermont Hydroponics have also partnered with Rutland, Vermont city schools to sponsor two hydroponic carts at Rutland High.
Sullivan hopes that some day, there’ll be a hydroponic garden in every school. “It’s a great program and good goal to work towards,” he says.