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Southwest High School students hope to grow enough lettuce to feed school with indoor farming

Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 3:20 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Access to fresh and nutritional food isn’t always the easiest, especially in Wisconsin where the temperatures are already starting to dip.

However, that isn’t the case for students in the Green Bay Area Public School District as they learn to grow their own food inside the classroom thanks to a major funding initiative.

Action 2 News toured Southwest High School’s expanded hydroponics system on Tuesday as students harvested their first crop.

“It was really good. It was way different than the store because it was like really fresh,” said Elise Williams, a senior at Southwest High School.

“We started with the lettuce … we’ve learned so much and we’re surprised how fast it’s growing,” said Williams.

It’s growing so fast that they harvested 15 pounds of it just last week.

“What we get out of our harvests will be going to the cafeteria, and we’ll be feeding the school for lunches. We’re hoping to feed the whole school once it gets rolling,” said Maddie Marchant, a senior at Southwest High School.

That goal is becoming a reality thanks to a grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership, which allowed the school to expand its flex farm.

“The flex farm is an indoor vertical hydroponic system that grows really more than 20 pounds of food every month,” said Alex Tyink, CEO of Fork Farms. “It’s intended to feed lots of people but in a very small space and it’s really easy to manage, only takes about 10 minutes a week.”

Fork Farms is an agriculture technology company based in Green Bay that services school food programs all over the country. Tyink said it’s about connecting kids with food, from farm to table.

“In every community, there’s food insecurity. In Green Bay, it’s just as prevalent if not more than in other places across the country. So for us, that’s a really critical part of this initiative and I think why the community stepped up the way that they did to support this installation, in particular, to really try to get nutrition into the hands of our kids,” said Tyink.

Tyink had a chanced to talk to some students and he said they are already on the right track.

“They’re old pros, running the system in a really short amount of time …. They’ve already gotten one crop in and we’re only a couple of weeks into school and they said it was really successful and I think that they’re gonna have a lot of success for years to come,” said Tyink.

For Southwest Agriscience teacher, Tom Sebranek, he never thought this would be reality.

“Never in my wildest dreams, so it’s kind of cool when you start to see things,” said Sebranek.

Along with the flex farm, Sebranek also has aeroponics set up in the high school.

“I’m the guinea pig. I’m the first one that has this in a high school,” said Sebranek. “Aeroponics is simply the plants are not sitting in the water, everything gets blown up.”

Sebranek hopes these small seeds grow into something more for students that reach well beyond the classroom walls.

“How can they make this their own? They can create some of these things and put it in their garage if they wanted to,” said Sebranek. “We can do all these things and show the students that they can grow their own food, no matter where they’re at, in a way healthier way.”

The students hope to produce about 50 pounds of food each week for the school.

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