Middle school goes green with hydroponic garden

A new hydroponic garden at Independence Middle School not only provides students with a hands-on learning experience, but also produces fresh produce for the cafeteria.

When a company called Fork Farms called the school about adding the garden, it was a dream come true for Rio Vincz, gifted teacher at Independence Local Schools and advisor to the Junior Biology Society. Vincz said she wanted a hydroponic garden since she began her career with the district seven years ago.

Service Manager Francine Kane approved the idea of adding the hydroponic garden, which is an indoor garden that doesn’t use soil for growing. Plants hold themselves up in natural material and water runs over the roots of vegetables, making them grow.

The plants, according to Vincz, can grow vertically rather than horizontally, taking up less space than an outdoor field. “The garden ensures efficient delivery of nutrients to the root of the vegetable,” she said.

Some of the greens grown include lettuce, spinach and herbs, which are all used by the school cafeteria. The garden requires consistent attention, making it an ideal project for the Junior Biology Society, a group of students interested in science who meet twice a month.

Students harvest the vegetables, clean the garden weekly, and maintain nutrients levels, sometimes taking pH tests during recess to measure a plant’s acidity. Vincz said the society members now have a project for the winter months when outdoor activities are limited. She added that the garden is teaching sustainable practices and environmentalism in addition to how to grow food.

“This skyrockets the district into the future as far as STEM,” she said.

Students are learning innovative ways of doing things, according to Vincz, who noted that Independence is only one of two school districts that she knows of with a hydroponic garden. “It teaches students autonomy and responsibility,” she said. Contact Vincz with questions at rvincz@independence.k12.oh.us.

Students check on plants within the indoor
hydroponic garden. Photo submitted.