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Putnam VITAL School Receives Hydroponics Grant

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
Putnam VITAL School Receives Hydroponics Grant

Getting students outside and interested in using technology to grow things, one of the goals of a new STEM grant at Putnam County’s VITAL School.

STEM Teacher Carrin Nash said the $5,000 grant will go toward a new hydroponics vertical farming system. Nash said the program already has a wealth of machines like 3-D printers and plotter printers. He wanted to find a machine that gets students outside and focused more on the science and biology elements of STEM.

“It seems that, you know, we’re getting less and less space to grow things,” Nash said. “Pesticides and things like that, you know. It’s something cool to show them that, you know, ‘Hey, you don’t have to necessarily do things the way they always have been done.’ You know, there are different ways to get the same result.”

Nash said the kids can use the ZipGrow vertical farming tower to grow up to 20 heads of lettuce in six months. He said the grant also funded raised garden planters and farming equipment. He said he plans to help the students build their own hydroponics systems at home.

“I want the kids to be able to model something maybe not necessarily similar to it, but something that will function the same way that they can, you know, build out of two or three things that they have laying around at their house,” Nash said. “And you know, they can possibly grow something that they can eat at their dinner table. I think that’s pretty cool.”

He said the hydroponics unit will involve all of the different aspects of STEM. He said students will use math to measure the nutrients needed for different plants, science to monitor growth rates between outdoor and indoor plants, and mechanics to build their own small-scale systems.

“It was kind of amazing to me, we’re in a very rural area but a lot of kids have never grown anything or anything like that,” Nash said.

Nash said this will be a deeply valuable experience for the students later in life as they move through higher education programs, whether that be a trade school or a traditional four-year college, or joining the workforce where these skills may be handy and set them apart from other adults. He said grant administrators at TVA have been great to work with and he looks forward to seeing students watch their first plant grow.

He said many VITAL students live in apartments and do not have frequent opportunities to spread out and get their hands dirty.


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