School Grown Lettuce on the Menu in MN

Outside gardening year round is not an option when you live in an area known for cold winters. In Winona, Minnesota, the senior high school uses hydroponic gardening to source fresh lettuce for lunch. Winona Area Public Schools students who take elective agriculture classes are growing the lettuce.

The process begins with students starting seeds in rockwool, the growing media used in the hydroponic system instead of soil. They then transplant each plant into a separate spot in the hydroponic system and monitor the growth, adjusting nutrient and pH levels over the growing period, which is just under a month.   

The system is set up in a classroom in the Agricultural Department and overseen by agriculture teacher Amanda Langley.  All it requires is a water supply nearby and about 10 minutes a day for students to check on the crops. 

“Once it’s ready the students harvest the lettuce and bring it down to the high school’s kitchen,” said Jennifer Walters, School Nutrition Director for Winona Area Public Schools. The romaine type lettuce grown in the system is mixed with lettuce the district has purchased and served for lunch. 

On an average day, the school nutrition staff at Winona Senior High School make about 100 salads. “It has helped a bit with the supply chain shortages,” said Walters. “We look forward to being able to grow more.”  

Next on the growing schedule, basil. Those plants have just been planted and aren’t quite ready for harvest yet.

This is the school’s first hydroponic system and was paid for by a grant through Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP). Walters says the students would like to grow tomatoes and fruit plants, however, to grow more crops, another hydroponic system is needed – each one costs about $5,000.  She plans to apply for another grant to expand the hydroponic system.

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