Hydroponics on Campus: Urban Farming at School

by Julia P., Bennett B. and Aiyan L., Global Development Studies students

How will we continue to feed the growing population of humans on our planet? This is a big question and one that our Global Development Studies team was drawn to this semester.

A bit of background is necessary to understand the scope of this issue. Since April of 2010, the human population has grown by 6.3% and is expected to continue growing exponentially. With this growing population, the demand for food is also increasing at a rapid rate. Currently, the majority of our food comes from factory farms and large-scale, mechanized monoculture farms. Monoculture farming is a type of farming where the farms specialize in a specific crop and use the majority or all of the land to grow that one type of crop. This process severely decreases biodiversity and causes all sorts of problems for the surrounding environment. Loss of biodiversity causes the soil to become unhealthy and leads to soil erosion. This soil erosion is accompanied by pesticide and herbicide runoff as well. This runoff contaminates local water sources and changes the chemical composition of the water which can causes increases in algae as well as fish deaths. Furthermore, these chemicals can end up in our drinking water or in our stomachs from contaminated fish. Overall, by working to maximize our food production we are destroying the environment and making it harder to provide for the ever-growing human population.

So, what can we do? We need to engage with more sustainable ways of farming. One way of sustainable farming method we have learned about in our Global Development Studies class is hydroponics. Hydroponic gardening is a method of vertical farming that utilizes a nutrient solution to grow the plants rather than soil. The roots of the plant are submerged in water that has added nutrients, which are delivered directly to the roots. Because soil is not necessary to grow the plants, there is no soil erosion and no groundwater contamination and degradation of habitats. Pesticides and herbicides are not needed. Furthermore; the system recycles the water so there is minimal water usage and waste; and the vertical growing methods allow us to grow more plants in less space. Overall, with hydroponic gardening we are able to grow large quantities of food in a sustainable way that will product our environment and allow us to continue living on a healthy Earth.

Our GDS group worked on creating a hydroponics wall in the high school for our semester project this year. We worked with the Operations team to identify a suitable site on campus, and settled on the fourth floor of the high school by the biology lab. This seemed like a natural choice because we would like to create learning experiences connected to the hydroponics wall, and being close to science classrooms seemed like a perfect fit.

We researched a variety of hydroponics systems and found a design that works well in the fourth floor hallway, and we are grateful to the Concordia Fund for supporting our project and funding the purchase of our hydroponics units.

In May, our first unit arrived and is now set up and ready to go. Over the summer, we will start growing our first test batch of plants, and we will monitor the system and the plants every other week, seeing how everything is going and familiarizing ourselves with the system. If phase one is successful, we will order the rest of the units in August and have the whole wall up and running shortly afterwards.

Our team will join the Global Issues Network for the 2021/22 school year, and we plan to recruit additional students to help maintain the system and create the learning opportunities and resources that can be used with our hydroponics wall.

 By implementing a hydroponics wall in our high school, we hope to give all students at Concordia the opportunity to learn about one method of urban farming and raise awareness of sustainable approaches to growing food.