Vertical Hydroponic Farming Takes Elementary School To New Heights

Students at Hopewell Elementary School (HES) in New Jersey have cultivated an impressive Farm to School program that incorporates important school lessons while also providing produce for school cafeteria menus.

$25,000 in grants supported construction of a customized indoor, hydroponic vertical farm in the school’s cafeteria.  Hopewell Elementary School’s Principal David Friedrich said that appreciation for local ingredients and lunch participation has continued to grow. With the assistance of Dr. Paul Gauthier, a plant physiologist at Princeton University, a partnership was established to incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) lessons in the creation of the school garden. Students in Kindergarten to fifth grade are involved in the entire gardening process, from planting, maintaining and harvesting of the fresh produce to creating new, exciting school recipes.


Students help harvest the various types of lettuce, spinach, basil, cilantro, dill, bok choy, several varieties of strawberries and lunchbox peppers. Based on high demand from students and staff, this is the fourth year that Hopewell Elementary School is serving an  organic, homemade lunch three times a week. School nutrition staff has also introduced spring water infused with vegetables, herbs and fruit, much of which is grown in their school gardens or from local farms – and served in 100 percent biodegradable cups. Offering more infused waters also helps cut down on the use of plastic water bottles.


“This initiative supports nutritious options in the cafeteria, sustainability and hands-on STEM instruction,” said Friedrich. “In addition to our vertical farming initiative supporting our nutritious options in the cafeteria, it also supports our sustainability efforts.”

In addition to local and sustainable foods used in the cafeteria, HES removed all plastic straws and replaced plastic milk containers with cartons in their cafeteria. According to Friedrich, the students are excited to implement sustainable and environmentally friendly practices elsewhere, even petitioning the Town Council to ban the use of plastic bags in the town of Hopewell.


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This fall, HES was recognized with the 2018 Best of New Jersey Farm to School Award by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. The school also featured local farmers and chefs at its annual Farm to School Day, which showcased recipe demonstrations and taste tests.

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