FALL RIVER — While most students may not think about what goes into the salad they eat for lunch, the students at Holy Trinity School in Fall River experience first-hand the unique way of growing produce using hydroponics. As part of the overall STEM program, two years ago, Holy Trinity administrators decided to apply for a grant as an opportunity to incorporate hydroponics into the curriculum. As on-site expertise increased, the growing capabilities expanded to include both micro-greens and leafy produce. All students, from pre-kindergarten through grade eight, have class responsibilities that must be maintained to ensure the health of the produce. The middle school students bear most of the responsibility for keeping the plants healthy, ensuring the equipment is functioning properly, and harvesting the produce at the appropriate time.
As the quantity and quality of the produce expanded and improved, it became apparent that there would be an abundance of food available, even after incorporating it into the daily school lunches. Kevin Flynn, Chief Technology Officer at Holy Trinity, reached out to local restaurants with the offer to help supply leafy produce and microgreens grown specifically according to their recipe. Chef Richard Allaire from Warren, R.I., responded positively which was the start of a great relationship between Holy Trinity School and Metacom Kitchen, a restaurant that uses local produce and farm products.
According to Kevin Flynn, “Our hydroponics program has gotten to the point where we are able to experiment with flavor profiles, such as a peppery flavor or a mild flavor. Or, we can grow produce based upon a new dish created by Chef Rick, as we grew lettuce that would pair nicely with a variety of dishes. The larger benefit of growing the produce right here is that as soon as it is harvested, I deliver it to the restaurant. Typical produce will have been harvested weeks prior by the time it has arrived at a restaurant; whereas, our produce is delivered the same day. This extends the shelf life tremendously as well as taste so much fresher than what is purchased through normal channels.”
“Eight years ago, I opened this restaurant and am constantly experimenting with new dish ideas, food combinations, and flavors,” said Chef Rick. “A mutual friend introduced me to Kevin and the hydroponics program at Holy Trinity School. When I tasted the initial samples, I was very impressed with the flavors and textures, which are so important when developing new menu creations. The other benefit is that there is consistency in the high quality of the produce. I never need to worry that what I receive will be less than perfect and many of my regular customers have commented on the improved quality of the produce and micro-greens. It has been such a pleasure to work with Holy Trinity knowing that students are learning about the importance of growing high quality, chemical-free foods.”
The time from germination to harvest is about seven-10 days for most microgreens and two full weeks for heads of lettuce. This quick growing time allows the students to test varying pH and EC levels which affect the flavor of the produce. Middle school students test the pH/EC every day and ensure the proper nutrient schedule for each variation. School vacations present challenges to adhering to this schedule so there is a plan to automate many of the current processes as funding allows.
“Our hydroponics program has been such a blessing for our students to learn first-hand about the importance of knowing how and where our food has been grown,” commented Brenda Gagnon, principal of Holy Trinity School. “All students, as young as our Pre-K 3, are able to watch the seedlings grow into produce and know that the salad at lunch came from this very building. Moreover, this program has completely engaged our middle school students who have learned everything from pH and EC levels, to lighting spectrums, to molecular recipes and even time proper management. Parents love that their students can learn outside of the classroom and actively participate in the securing of their daily lunch salads.”
Holy Trinity School, Gagnon said, provides a Christ-based, academically challenging education in a safe and nurturing environment. The school aims to instill a lifelong desire for learning, to promote respect for self and others, and to recognize diversity that will prepare each child for a productive role in a global society.