Students in the Bloomer School District are growing year-round with indoor hydroponic farms – Flex Farms. This innovative hands-on program is led by Ms. Rachel Haas, agricultural educator. Bloomer is located in the northwest part of Wisconsin where there is ample farmland and a strong farming community. Many students in the Bloomer School District are members of Future Farmers of America (FFA) and seek out careers in the agricultural industry. Leaders in the Bloomer Agriculture Department saw an opportunity to expand their students’ experience with different types of farming production by implementing their own indoor hydroponic farming program.
Today, the program has become an integral part of the students’ daily activities and the school lunch program. So how do they run their Flex Farm program?
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT & FARM RESPONSIBILITIES
The Bloomer Agriculture Department uses the Flex Farms in rotation to have a harvest every Monday. There is a set schedule to be followed to ensure a successful harvest every time. As the instructor, Ms. Haas uses the first couple of weeks as a practice to ensure everyone in the class is proficient at caring for the hydroponic farms. After, students have complete autonomy over the entire production. Students are responsible for the weekly harvest, cleaning the Flex Farms between harvests, and checking/balancing pH and nutrients each day. Students also analyze plant health daily, to estimate the weekly harvest and communicate with our lunch program coordinator.
Each trimester a new class is assigned the task of caring for the Flex Farms. When students enter the classroom they look at the Flex Farms maintenance schedule to determine what needs to be done with the hydroponic farms for the day. Once these students start growing leafy greens, harvesting, and delivering fresh food to the school lunch they are given the opportunity to share their hard work with the rest of the school community.
When asked about her favorite part of the program, Ms. Haas responded, “my favorite part of engaging students with the Flex Farms is that it gives them hands-on experience producing food for themselves and the Bloomer High School Lunch Program.” She continues, “it is so empowering to see students take such pride in their work. All of my students are always so excited to have had a part in producing their own food right in the classroom. I also love that it gives students a sense of responsibility and helps them develop amazing skills that will transfer over to any of their future careers.”
OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH & EMPOWERMENT
FFA’s mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education. The Flex Farms used as a part of the education program in Bloomer do just that! They provide hands-on experience for students to develop leadership skills while working in teams to care for the leafy greens from seed to a successful harvest.
The Flex Farms provide opportunities for students to grow personally through the daily challenges which further develop their problem-solving skills. Lastly, having the responsibility, following daily directions, and maintaining the weekly harvest schedule of the Flex Farms are all great career-building skills that will stay with these students into their future education and careers.
Author: Megan Pirelli, Brand Content Director Fork Farms