Fresh produce is coming in from farms all around our region right now, but some local high school students are learning to farm year round, no matter what the weather. A unique farm at a local high school is winning awards for growing and giving. It’s a hydroponic farm at Trinity High School in Washington, PA. In just their first year, they grew up to 800 heads of lettuce every week and gave it all to their local food bank.
The farm is hidden behind the school, in a big white shipping container. Inside, the hue of fuschia, wall of leaves and frigid temperature make it feel like another planet. It’s known as the “freight farm”. Student Courtney Dahlquist shows how the lettuce goes from seed to leaves, all in this container. There’s no sun, no rain, just the right chemicals, temperature and light. It’s all part of the education.
Teacher Jeanette Hartley credits the success of the freight farm’s first year to the hard work of her four students who learned biology, chemistry and much more in this non-traditional class. “You can tell them that all day long but until they see it, feel it, pour the nutrients, and see dosing and putting in parameters for how much dosing, they’re not really understanding the whole idea,” Hartley says. Dahlquist adds, “I really learned a lot about teamwork and working with people.”
Once the lettuce is ready, the students bag it and give it all to the Greater Washington County Food Bank. Trinity High School won the regional Jefferson Award for public service in part because of their generosity. In fact, the hydroponic farm has been so successful since it started in August that the food bank is replicating it so they can grow more produce. Farm innovation manager for the food bank, Morgan Livingston, says, “We’re actually using their system as a model so we can start to raise fresh produce and fish and get that out to the community.” Both the school and food bank were awarded grants to fund the projects.
The students love sharing their produce with the community and take pride in what they grow. “We always check quality control to be sure it’s not too bitter,” says Dahlquist. “We always make sure that’s alright, so we test it every day,” she says, taking a bite and revealing a smile.
The students are excited about the potential opportunities for more freight farms in places like inner cities in abandoned buildings or in desserts where nothing can grow.