LEA podcasts

RRR heading

links and resources

Here are some resources if you want to graow hydroponically at your school:

Fork Farms of Appleton, Wisconsin.
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin
Read a news report about our project.

other STF links

Ash Wednesday (Feature)

Who Speaks for the Children? (EncourAGEnet)

Easing Enrollment Anxiety (ECEnet)

Math Centers: You Can Do It! (ETnet)


Participate in the LEADnet listserv as a benefit of your LEA membership.


LEA is looking for writers

LEA is looking for writers in front-line ministries for articles in future ShapingtheFuture magazine pieces. If you would like to write, contact ed.grube@lea.org (do not reply to this publication) to express and discuss your interests.



growing lunch







Growing Lunch!

A congregational member knew of someone, who knew someone else, and by word of mouth a seed was planted with me.St. John Lutheran School in Plymouth, Wisconsin is a 3K–8th grade school with approximately 210 students. Last school year, this grade school got a new and unique opportunity. St. John received a grant to get a large hydroponics indoor farm that could be used in a variety of ways. Our principal, Jay Lindsey, asked that I share our experience with the readers of ShapingtheFuture.

This opportunity started like so many others. A congregational member knew of someone, who knew someone else, and by word of mouth a seed was planted with me, the school’s science teacher. I reached out in hopes of finding out more information and ultimately ended up getting an indoor farm from Fork Farms of Appleton, Wisconsin. We received the farm at no charge due to a special grant earmarked for Lutheran schools and offered by Fork Farms in conjunction with Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin.

hydroponic growing stepsThe hydroponics machine we received is a vertical, cylindrical set up, filling about a 4' by 4' area and sitting approximately 6' tall. The machine is rather compact, yet can produce a large yield of food; it is capable of growing 288 plants at one time.

After we received the machine and put it together, the real work began. My students and I filled the machine with water; it holds between 40 and 50 gallons. We then had a lesson on how the school’s water would need to be treated in order to best suit the plants we would grow. We researched what particles were in the water at school and established a baseline pH, and then added a pH adjuster and nutrients to the water until the water reached the correct levels for the plants that we would ultimately raise.

St. John’s began with a leafy lettuce called Starfighter™. The lettuce resembles romaine and grows fairly rapidly. Students took the seeds, which are coated in a white clay, and planted them in a substance called rockwool. Rockwool is the base that holds the seed. It is not soil; rather it is a fibrous material made from superheated rock, which has been molded to have small indents in which to place a seed. The students placed their plantings in a small grow lab in the school science lab. The grow lab provides water and 24 hours of light. Within approximately 16 hours of planting, the seeds begin to sprout. The plants stay in the science lab, with the light constantly on, until they are larger. When they begin to crowd each other, students transplant the lettuce to the hydroponics machine.

Students do the work of transplanting, as they do for most of the process.Students do the work of transplanting, as they do for most of the process. Each plant is in its own small piece of rockwool, and each small piece has its own opening in the hydroponics machine. Students carefully take the seedlings, one at a time, and place them in the machine. They work to space them evenly, carefully ensuring that the roots are inside the machine so they can absorb the nutrient water that flows through the machine. After all the plants are in the machine, the hard work is done, and the plants can grow.

hydroponic unitThe machine circulates water from a 5-gallon bucket with a pump inside, located behind the machine, to the top of the pod where it drips down through small holes back to the bottom of the machine. As the water drips, the plants’ roots, which stick out into the machine, grab and absorb some of the water and are continuously watered and fed. The water then goes back through the pump and continues to circulate. The machine requires about 5 gallons of water each week to ensure the proper water level.

The hydroponics machine also contains a bright light, which is about 5 feet tall and is located in the middle of it. The light is extremely bright and can get rather hot. Because of these concerns, the light runs from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m, when students generally are not present. The machine also opens and fully closes to keep in light and protect the growing plants.

They learn about gravity through the falling water, about machines and moving parts, and they grasp the idea of light and waves.Students watch as the plants grow, and they learn so many things along the way. They first learn about physics. They learn about gravity through the falling water, about machines and moving parts, and they grasp the idea of light and waves. Students then learn about earth science ideas when studying rockwool and the idea of how rocks can change form as well as how water has dissolved minerals in it and can cause erosion. Thirdly, students learn to be biologists and botanists in many different ways. Students learn growing dailyabout plants and photosynthesis, about farming without soil, about plant tissues, like xylem and phloem, and specifically about minerals needed for plants to grow well. Finally, students visit the idea of conservation and expand their thinking on growing plants...anywhere...and all year round, even when conditions outside might not promote growth. Students are thinking outside-the-box and learning to problem solve.

When the lettuce is ready to be harvested, the school lunch ladies gather the lettuce they need and use it in the school lunch program. They can harvest fresh lettuce each day, and students can literally eat the fruits, or veggies, of their labors.

While this process has been beneficial for the school, starting a new program like this does not come without its fair share of small problems and setbacks. It took some time to get the water just right, which caused some group impatience. My students were all so excited to get started, but they learned lessons of patience and endurance too. The machine also had an unfortunate leak as well, which caused many of the plants to die because of a lack of water. Fork Farms was wonderful in working with the school to fix the problem and in getting the machine up and running again.

St. John Lutheran School has had much success with our indoor farm and anticipates using it for years to come. While the school has had much success growing leafy greens, my students and I intend to try other plants and crops as well. We are going to experiment with other crops to push the indoor farm to its full potential!

Libby MacGillis is the science, algebra, and physical education teacher at St. John Lutheran School in Plymouth, Wis.

lettuuce for lunch!

Photos courtesy St. John, Plymouth, Wis.