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The Future for School Gardens

You probably have seen one. A raised garden box brimming with tomatoes and herbs on the grounds at your neighborhood school. School gardens have exploded across the country over the last decade and are bringing numerous benefits to the kids they serve. From increased nutrition knowledge to higher consumption rates of healthy food to greater enthusiasm for learning, school gardens are incredible educational tools that are making a real difference in students’ lives.

But there’s another type of school garden on the horizon, and you may be less familiar with it. This school garden looks a little different. It requires neither sunlight nor soil. It sits inside of the classroom and features LED lighting, liquid nutrients and motorized controls. This garden is a hydroponic growing system and more and more schools are starting to explore them.

Hydroponics is the fastest growing type of gardening. It allows gardeners to grow plants in water without soil or in a soilless growing media, such as potting mix or coco coir. Hydroponics rapidly delivers nutrients to the plant’s roots, resulting in plants that grow faster and produce significantly more harvest. It can be used to grow nearly any type of plant and offers schools an alternative to traditional in-ground or raised bed gardening.

However, hydroponics is much more than just an alternative method for growing. It delivers its own unique social and educational benefits. Hydroponics is key to major advances in water conservation, land use and food production. One hydroponically grown plant can produce more than 10x the yield of one grown in traditional soil-based gardening, with less water use and less space required. The social impact this provides for future food production––especially in concrete-ridden, food-desert urban environments––is astronomical. Plus, hydroponic growing is year-round, regardless of weather conditions, which doubles the growing season and further increases potential food production.

In the classroom, introducing students to hydroponics offers exciting and distinct learning opportunities. It allows students to investigate plant needs through a different lens and encourages a deeper understanding of the conditions needed for healthy plant growth and development. Concepts like plant parts, nutrition, recycling and agricultural technology come to life for students and provide opportunities to explore foundational engineering and design principles. Hydroponics gives students year-round access to fresh, healthy food within arm’s reach inside the classroom, and as a quickly growing industry, hydroponics may even lead to future job interests and career paths for students.

One hydroponically grown plant can produce more than 10x the yield of one grown in traditional soil-based gardening, with less water use and less space required.


At Hawthorne Gardening Company, we think it’s critical to introduce more kids to this fascinating and beneficial way to grow. In May, the National Farm to School Network announced our partnership to bring more hydroponic gardens to more schools across the country, and we couldn’t be more excited about this program.

Together, the National Farm to School Network and Hawthorne Gardening Company will work closely with 15 schools in New York, Washington D.C. and California during the 2019-2020 school year to integrate hydroponic technology into their classrooms. In order for the hydroponic gardens to be fully integrated, we’ve developed our own curriculum–-written by experts at Kids Gardening––to align with STEM principles and Next Generation Science Standards. This program is part of Scotts Miracle-Gro’s Gro More Good initiative and commitment to connect 10 million children to the benefits of gardens and greenspaces by 2023. Our hope is that we will spark a love of learning and of hydroponic gardening that will last a lifetime for these students.

On a more personal note, I was fortunate to grow up in a gardening family and have been around gardening my whole life. But I know that not every child has had this opportunity. That’s why I’m passionate about introducing more students today––kids who otherwise would not have had the chance––to the wonders of hydroponic growing. If we can connect just one more child to the benefits of gardening, then the program will be successful in my eyes. However, I’m hopeful it will have a much farther reaching impact for the future of school gardens.

National Farm to School Network is an information, advocacy and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing, school gardens, and food and agriculture education into school systems and early care and education settings. Learn more about our work at farmtoschool.org.

Hawthorne Gardening Co. is a house of brands that provide an incredible array of tools and services for a multitude of gardening needs and yet all share one mission: to help people live happier, healthier lives through gardening. Hawthorne is dedicated to empowering more people to garden no matter where and how they choose to grow.

The Future for School GardensThis blog is one in a series that will focus on National Farm to School Network and Hawthorne Gardening Company’s work to bring more indoor gardens to more schools.

By Chris Hagedorn – Senior Vice President and General Manager, Hawthorne Gardening Company

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Industry News

Hydro gardening increases students’ interest in STEM School

Students at Amidon-Bowen Elementary in Washington, D.C. excited about the fast growth of their salad greens.

With a goal of connecting more students across the country to indoor gardening opportunities, The Scotts-Miracle Gro Foundation, Hawthorne Gardening Company and National Farm to School Network have launched a pilot project to integrate hydroponic growing systems into classrooms and science curricula this school year.Halfway into the pilot year the hydroponic gardens are overflowing and teachers, students and families are seeing the positive impacts in and outside of the classroom. Students are demonstrating an increased interest in science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) concepts, as well as an increase in applying critical thinking skills. The hydroponic systems have also enhanced family and community engagement and fostered student behavioral and social-emotional development.Across all pilot schools, the hydroponic systems are encouraging students from pre-school to middle school to take ownership over the garden, deciding what to grow, monitoring the system daily, and leading care and harvest. According to teachers, student ownership of the hydroponic units has translated into improved attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors related to healthy eating, improved their knowledge about gardening, agriculture and food systems and provided valuable opportunities for peer learning.

The hydroponic systems have also enhanced family and community engagement and fostered student behavioral and social-emotional development.

Most classrooms are using their pepper, tomato, herb and salad green harvests in taste tests while teachers are incorporating plant parts, hydroponic vs. soil garden needs and life cycle lessons into existing STEM, food system, and/or nutrition curricula. At Kimball Elementary School in Washington, D.C., students in a FoodPrints classroom and lab incorporate their hydroponic produce into meals and snacks they prepare as a part of their cooking and gardening STEM curriculum. Recently, students used their hydroponically grown tomatoes to create a salsa for sweet potato quesadillas. “Our special education class has taken ownership of the hydroponic grow station. They put it together, take care of it and monitor the growth. It’s been a great experience for them,” describes Kimball Elementary School.At P.S. 214 in the Bronx, New York sixth grade students had the opportunity to teach second grade students about the hydroponic garden. The sixth graders did a shared reading about plants as a system, and then created hydroponic bags to observe the growth of a lima bean.

One of the things that makes the hydroponic systems such a great learning and teaching tool for plant life cycles and other STEM concepts is that they provide relatively instant results for both students and teachers. “Students can see the plants from seed to plant in record time. Seeds produce plants produces tomatoes. They know that but to see it without waiting months is amazing. They run to the grow station every time they enter the classroom,” describes Kimball Elementary School.And students’ general inquiry and interest in scientific process is increasing. “I have heard very fascinating ‘what if’ questions from my students like ‘what if we can grow a whole farm of vegetables just like this?’ which has led me to incidental exploration of other science avenue topics such as sustainability, pros vs. cons, and water as a resource,” reports Amidon-Brown Elementary School in Washington, D.C.At Kimball Elementary, students counted the yellow flowers on their tomato plants in anticipation of the plant’s fruits. “They are very excited to see if we can produce as many tomatoes as predicted,” describes a Kimball Elementary teacher.

Many of the schools have had success engaging families and community with the hydroponic systems. Some schools have included families in the harvesting and tasting of the hydroponic plants while others have placed the unit in a shared space where the whole school community can observe, ask questions, and share in the excitement with the students. “We teach a family cooking class on Monday afternoons. Parents who might not have ever seen a garden or be interested in growing plants ask so many questions about the hydroponic system. It sparks conversations about the plants we are growing, healthy eating and how to cook those plants in a non-threatening informative way,” describes Kimball Elementary School.Teachers have noticed marked changes in their students such as increased overall awareness and attentiveness to academic responsibilities as well as demonstration of social-emotional development. NFSN staff observed a young student at Tubman Elementary School in Washington, D.C. who had been struggling to concentrate in the classroom become much more engaged when the class visited the hydroponics unit, eagerly asking and answering questions. At Sunrise Middle School in San Jose, California, students have started managing the hydroponic care schedule and consistently remind their teacher who is on deck to be the weekly garden helpers.

Once spring arrives, many classes have hopes to transplant their tomatoes and peppers to outdoor gardens while others are planning to plant a new round of hydroponic pods at the same time they plant seeds, creating additional opportunities to explore STEM concepts, to encourage family and community engagement and support continued social-emotional development.Teachers anticipate the positive impacts to grow as they continue to integrate the hydroponics systems into lessons and families become more engaged in the delicious results.

By Jenileigh Harris – Program Associate, National Farm to School Network

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News & Updates

Microgreens Production

Microgreens can be a great option when selecting a product to start a small business or to expand your current market. Why? Microgreens are relatively easy to grow in comparison to other crops and cycles are very short. Therefore, you can quickly learn and improve your production technique, correct mistakes and become a good microgreens producer.

Another advantage in this product is their suitability for vertical farming. Vertical farms for microgreens production can work from a very basic installation to more sophisticated system. The use of artificial lighting within the vertical farming technologies allow the optimization of production per area.

Microgreens can bring in a good price in the market.
Once you find a market, microgreens can become a good business. This product can be very valuable in markets where you find customers interested in healthy, high nutritious products. In addition, microgreens are also a distinguished product used by chefs at “Haute cuisine” restaurants.

But, what exactly are microgreens?
Microgreens can be defined as seedlings from vegetables that are herbs. This product can have a tendency to be confused with sprouts. But definitely, they are not the same! Microgreens are harvested after cotyledons are fully developed just before true leaves start to emerge. In comparison with sprouts this product is grown under light making possible the development of stem and cotyledons.

Which hydroponic system can be used to grow your own microgreens?
As mentioned above, microgreens can be easily grown in vertical farming systems. In order to facilitate irrigation and general microgreens production in vertical farms hydroponic ebb and flow systems can be implemented. Sub irrigation provided in ebb and flow systems are great to keep moisture substrate content in a very easy and practical way.

Article from hortamericas.com – microgreens-production

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News & Updates

Cultivate 20′ Virtual

IGE was part of the Virtual version of Cultivate in 2020. Cultivate’20 Virtual is an 100% online event that brings you the high-quality learning and peer-to-peer engagement that you’ve always received at Cultivate. From world-class education sessions, to on-line discussion forums, to making new connections with exhibitors.

For nearly 100 years, Cultivate has been known as THE event for every segment of the green industry. As the source of best practices, new plant varieties and product innovation, Cultivate’20 Virtual is the place to network with old colleagues and meet new ones.

We were disappointed that we did not get to meet in person this year, but that won’t stop us from providing you access to our new online store and new website portal for all our products.

Download our Brochure to see our Products as well