RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. — A Richland County school installed an innovative new gardening project. It's the first of its kind in the county.
Hopkins Middle School got a hydroponic farmstand, Lettuce Grow, just in time for the school year.
Hydroponic gardening is water-based. The system grows plants and herbs without soil.
The Farmstand, donated by Molina Healthcare, will be used to engage students in food production, nutrition education, and STEM explorations while they grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs hydroponically.
The University of South Carolina has two types of hydroponic gardens, one that stands vertically and the other horizontally. “There’s a reservoir of water which we add nutrients to, and a pump cycles that through, so it’s a soil-free growing system," said USC Director of Sustainability Larry Cook.
The $1,200 Lettuce Grow Project was in partnership with the Richland County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Clemson Extension School & Community Gardening program and Molina Healthcare.
Chanda Cooper with Richland County Soil and Water District said the project provides access for students who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to grow a hydroponic garden.
“We recognize not all schools have a great place to install a garden outdoors, and not all students would be able to have an outdoor garden at their own home or in their community," Cooper said.
Michael Posey has his own hydroponic system at home. He said the farmstand helps to more successfully grow crops.
“You’re indoors, there’s not birds eating the seeds you plant out in the dirt and there’s no bugs," Posey said. "You can control the temperature much better."
Students will use the garden throughout the year to grow their own plants and food. Later on, after harvesting, they will decide what to do with the products.
Other schools like Conder Elementary and Catawba Trail Elementary have had hydroponic towers in the past.