MENASHA, Wis. (WBAY) - Farm to table operations are popular, but what about school to table? That's what the Menasha Joint School District is doing with its hydroponic farm.
A staff member checks the lettuce growing in Menasha's hydroponics lab (WBAY photo)
An unused classroom at Menasha high school has been turned into a farm.
According to Brian Adesso, the district's Director of Business Services, "Our population is a low socioeconomic population. Thought it was very important to provide the freshest quality leafy greens that we could possibly do for that population. This is really achieving that goal"
In the works for two years, the hydroponic system was finally set up at the beginning of the year. Nearly a year in and the farm is producing dozens of pounds of fresh leafy greens every week. The harvest is then being used by the school food services to help feed staff and students on occasion.
"It's fresher, it's safer if you think about it. There's no exposure to contaminants. We're the only ones allowed up here, the people that work in food service, so it's definitely a safer product," says Debra Grossinger with the district's food services.
The lettuce starts as seeds, planted in trays and then grown for about ten days in a flood table under LED ultraviolet lights. From there, the plants are transported to one of four growing towers, and that's where it really matures.
With each pod producing 20-25 pounds of leafy greens each week, the district is hoping by the end of the school year to be able to feed the entire student population.
Grossinger adds, "Right now we have four, and I'm hoping to get another eight, and that won't just be lettuce. We're hoping to grow spinach and other things too, but mostly leafy greens."
The district is just looking for community partners to help defray the costs of purchasing additional growing towers, and as the program expands they anticipate including students in the growing process.