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Columbus USD 493 announced as next district to receive hydroponic farm

Columbus USD 493 announced as next district to receive hydroponic farm

Hydroponic classrooms part of $10 million Farm to School initiative

Community Green Farms and Leafy Green Farms announced this week that Columbus Unified School District 493 will be the next school district in the state to receive a hydroponic farm classroom as part of a $10 million Farm to School initiative. 

The first phase of the initiative includes providing 10 school districts in southeast Kansas with a hydroponic farm similar to the ones in operation at Leafy Green Farms in Pittsburg. Leafy Green Farms is the first vertical hydroponic farm in Kansas.  

Eventually, the goal is to provide one hydroponic farm to a school in all 105 counties in Kansas, according to a news release from Community Green Farms, a nonprofit organization located in Pittsburg. 

The first school to receive one of the hydroponic farms was Pittsburg High School, Pittsburg USD 250, in the summer of 2022. Chanute High School, Chanute USD 413, was the second school to receive a hydroponic farm, Community Green Farms announced in January. 

K.C. Youngblood, an agriculture education instructor for Columbus USD 493, said the district plans to utilize the new hydroponic farm classroom for agricultural science, agriculture business, culinary art, physical science, STEM, marketing and more. 

“We felt this would create a wonderful opportunity for hands-on learning that can be incorporated across several different curriculums and pathways within our school. We hope that this also encourages healthy eating choices for our students and community,” Youngblood said. 

Community Green Farms hopes to have the hydroponic farm classroom in place by June 1, said Matt O’Malley, executive director of the nonprofit. 

“All Cherokee County schools were considered as possible recipients of the farm classroom,” O’Malley said. “We felt like the biggest impact would be made at USD 493 partly because of enrollment numbers and the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Once we approached the school, it became apparent that Columbus is a strong community full of businesses and individuals who will come forward to support this project and make it a reality. We are excited to give them the opportunity to provide the students with a new learning tool that will improve the health and eating habits of an entire school district.” 

Zack Murry, Chanute High School’s principal, said he hopes the farm piques the interests of all students, regardless of their field of study. 

“The pride our kids will have in producing this, it will reach our entire school,” he said. “Everyone in education is into making the school experience the most worthwhile. We couldn’t be more excited.” 

Chanute High School has received its farm classroom and work is currently taking place to get it set up, said Leslie Montee, director of communications for Leafy Green Farms. 

The horticulture students at Chanute High School will be primarily responsible for overseeing the project. Caitlyn LaHaye, the ag instructor and FFA advisor for Chanute High School, said the first steps she will take include teaching her horticulture classes about lettuce production and the modern concept of vertical farming. 

O’Malley said Community Green Farms and Leafy Green Farms are proud to be able to offer this opportunity to students. 

“Not only will this farm teach students an entirely new set of skills that could impact the trajectory of their chosen professions, but they are going to develop an interest in growing their own food, which will affect their health and the lives of their families for generations,” he said. 

Brad Fourby, the founder of Leafy Green Farms, added: “Moving the nutrition needle has always been our goal.” 

The initiative of donating hydroponic vertical farm classrooms came on the heels of Leafy Green Farms receiving a Regional Agribusiness award (southeast) at the To the Stars: Kansas Business Awards Banquet on Oct. 20, 2022. 

Rob and Sarah Morris serve as the primary benefactors for Community Green Farms. 

“As a lifelong resident of Kansas, I see the value in raising not only the nutrition levels but the awareness of where our food comes from and what is on it. The crops these farms produce are second to none, and they’re cleaner and healthier than traditionally grown organic foods,” Rob Morris said. “We’ve found that changing a population starts with our kids – so we are starting with them. Our hope is that other businesses in the Kansas community see the value in this program and are ready to be a part of this beneficial change.”

Posted: Apr 27, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush

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