By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – An education grant is helping students in the De Pere school district eat healthier.
School board members learned at their meeting last month about growing greens without soil, when high school agriculutre teacher Adam Wolf gave an update on how his department is using a district grant awarded last spring.
The grant enabled Wolf to purchase a Flex Farm hydroponic growing system for the school’s ag department.
The Flex Farm is a product of ForkFarms, Inc., a Green Bay-based startup with headquarters at Titletown Tech.
Wolf had planned to incorporate hydroponics – the process of growing crops without soil, using water infused with nutrients – into a section on aquaculture during the 2020-21 school year.
But without students physically in the building for most of the school year, Wolf had to improvise.
He recruited a group of high school FFA students to help run the hydroponic system.
The grant was one of nine grants the school board awarded to teachers in the district last spring.
The Flex Farm is a vertical tower system with a built-in grow light.
It measures about 10 square feet, and all it needs is proximity to an electrical outlet.
“It doesn’t take up a lot of space,” Wolf said. “It’s very low maintenance. You need to add nutrients once a week, and (the system) takes two hours to clean.”
As different crops vary in their nutrient requirements, growing more than one kind of plant isn’t possible, although some herbs can be grown together, Wolf said.
The system the grant provided is able to grow 3,400 lettuce plants per year.
Monthly totals average about 25 pounds of greens a month.
“It costs about a dollar a pound to produce,” Wolf said.
The project’s yields are also doing double duty with the greens going to the school lunch service.
Heather Reitmeyer, district food service manager and Farm to School coordinator, said so far, the lettuce produced by the hydroponics system has been used in 400 entrees, including sandwiches, wraps and salads, served to students and staff in the middle school and high school.
She said the hydroponic lettuce stays fresh longer than produce the district might order from its provider.
“It’s important to teach our children where our food is coming from,” Reitmeyer said.