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Green City Growers Brings Hydroponic Gardening To Boston Public Schools

A new way to create agricultural literacy by linking food, science, and the future together for Boston students

Green City Growers’ urban farmer educator leading Madison Park Technical Vocational High School’s hydroponic program

Green City Growers is excited to announce a new program to place Fork Farm hydroponic gardens in school cafeterias, as part of its partnership with Boston Public Schools. Students in the Madison Park Technical Vocational High School Special Education program debuted the program this past summer. English High School and Charlestown High School students joined the program and started their hydroponic gardens this November. Green City Growers will install gardens in four more Boston middle and high schools in January 2024.

A hydroponic garden is an example of how to grow food using water as the growing medium instead of soil. Growing hydroponically is efficient because it provides plants with the perfect conditions – the exact nutrients, water, and light they need. In addition, this technology efficiently recirculates water and has a smaller carbon footprint. Lettuce is not driven here from California – it is grown in the school cafeteria!

Caitie Dwyer-Huppert, Director of Education Programs at Green City Growers, says, “We are so thrilled to be working with teams of students and staff at BPS. These hydroponic gardens give BPS students hands-on opportunities to witness the power and beauty of food and science coming together. Students start by planting tiny seeds that quickly grow into food––lettuce and herbs on their plate!” Dwyer-Huppert notes, “In science classes students often ask their teachers, ‘Why do we need to know this?’ It’s satisfying for students to tend to the process of growing food from seed, and a wonderful way to reinforce why science matters!”

Green City Growers installs hydroponic gardens. Then, through their farming-as-a-service program, a Green City Growers’ farmer educator works with students and teachers each week to keep the gardens flourishing and provide educational curriculum.

According to Paul Barry, BPS Madison Park Special Education teacher, “It has been a great opportunity to work with Green City Growers and the hydroponic gardens. Students are using math skills when testing the units for pH and total solids, and they are eating what they plant. In addition, they are learning science concepts, like earth cycles, photosynthesis, energy flow through ecosystems, and reducing their carbon footprint. Students learn how to plant, cultivate, and harvest crops. All work is student generated. This hands-on experience has been a promising inclusion to student learning.”

Tommy Hayes, BPS English High School Environmental Science teacher, reports that “Working with Green City Growers this year is having a big impact on our students’ educations. They are realizing what it means to grow food hydroponically from seed to leaf from week to week. The best part is when mistakes are made, and we have to figure out what happened and start over! Growing plants is both a science and an art! Cooking with the greens in our culinary arts extends the learning and makes it even more tangible! Last week we used our lettuce to make a delicious salad that the students enjoyed very much.”

BPS is quickly becoming a regional leader in placing hands-on hydroponic gardens in schools. Burke High School, TechBoston Academy, and the O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science will begin hydroponic gardening programs in 2024. This program is possible because of the close partnership between Green City Growers and BPS Food and Nutrition Services, the Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Program within Facilities Management, and the Special Education Department. Funding for these novel projects comes from the BPS Special Education Department, grants from the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education’s (DESE) MA FRESH (Farming Reinforces Education & Student Health) and the USDA’s Farm to School grant, from BPS ESSER funds, and Fork Farms donations. As the excitement builds, the program will expand to other BPS schools.

Green City Growers’ President Chris Grallert says, “This program is everything that matters to me. As someone who has been involved with farming since boyhood, I absolutely believe in the power of growing things to teach young people how to transform our food system’s future. I am delighted to have our company, Green City Growers, be partnered with the Boston Public Schools. It gives me hope!”

Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Green City Growers stands out as a leader in the emerging industry known as Farming as a Service. Specializing in sustainable urban food growing systems, such as raised garden beds and hydroponic installations, the company has successfully implemented over 200 gardens throughout Massachusetts. These installations span various locations, including schools, corporate offices, hospitals, and the iconic Fenway Park in Boston. In addition to its services, Green City Growers shares gardening expertise with clients and collaborates with schools. This collaborative effort is supported by a dedicated team of educators who seamlessly integrate urban farming into educational curricula.