TIJERAS, N.M. (KRQE) – A local middle school class is growing their own food inside their classroom. The ‘Smart Farm’ produces hundreds of plants a semester, all in a space about the size of a closet. KRQE News 13 joined Mr. McGuinness’ class at Roosevelt Middle School for a day to see their creation.
There’s something growing in Mr. Stephen McGuinness’ sixth-grade classroom; actually, a lot of somethings: basil, peppermint, lettuce, and lots and lots of lettuce.
“This is our Smart Farm prototype. We designed this. This is a vertical farm that maximizes, it optimizes plant growth while saving energy, habitat, farmland, and water,” said McGuinness.
The project is six years in the making and its aim is to create a solution to growing populations and shrinking habitats. “And it turns out, it’s a lot more efficient than we expected. We’ve eliminated the need for herbicides and pesticides. We’re saving a tremendous amount of water,” said McGuinness.
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So, how does it work? The students in Mr. McGuinness’ class know best.
“The process starts in the germination tray over here,” says Tessa Knight, sixth-grader at Roosevelt Middle School, ““In the germination tray we have this floating piece of foam which holds a bunch of plugs. And we basically put seeds in these plugs and they don’t need any light or anything and we just make sure there’s plenty of water in the tray, and the seeds will sprout by themselves.”
“After they’ve sprouted, we take them out like this since they’re not actually in any soil, they’re in a plug,” explains Brooke Meisner, a sixth grader at Roosevelt Middle School, “We just take these and we put them in the baskets and then transfer them straight to the grow tower.”
Once there, sprinklers drip water down onto the plant’s roots—recirculating only five or six gallons of water. “We had a full harvest and ate about 200 salads using less water than the shower that you took this morning,” McGuinness says.
The whole contraption cost about $1,700 to build and is pretty self-sustaining. “We use red lights for the flowering and then blue lights for them to like grow faster,” says Beth Duncan, a sixth grader at Roosevelt Middle School. With the lights and irrigation system on timers, it can be left to grow in class even when everyone is gone for break. The amount of power it takes to run this whole operation is less than you would use to run your laptop for a day.
The best part for the students? Getting to eat the harvest. “The black-seeded lettuce is my favorite and bibb is my second favorite though we grow like so many other things,” Knight says.
“The design process is my favorite part. When something fails, ‘Oh no, the irrigation system is leaking, we need to fix it, we need to redesign it, and just that whole engineering design and it’s really just the process and the conversations we have in the hallway about how we’re designing it. It’s just a wonderful experience,” McGuinness says.
McGuinness calls it the farming of the future, happening right in the classroom at Roosevelt Middle School: “The more people we have, the more food we need. The more food we need, the more farmland we need. And the more farmland we use, the more habitat we’re taking away from natural populations, so we’re trying to minimize that and so we came up with this prototype.” McGuinness says he wants to share this prototype with the world in the hopes of creating a greener future.