Local students using hydroponics to grow lettuce in the classroom

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va (WHSV) — In February, we showed you a company called Autocrop, a company that uses vertical farming, LED lighting, and hydroponics to grow produce indoors. Students here in the Shenandoah Valley are learning to use that technology in the classroom.

An agriculture class at Turner Ashby High School got a hydroponic system at the beginning of this school year. They built the machine and learned to grow lettuce with it, which is then served in the salad bar at the school's cafeteria.

Thursday morning, second graders from Mountain View Elementary School visited Turner Ashby and spent time learning about hydroponics from the high schoolers who use the technology every day.

"We're teaching them about what the basics of hydroponics is and what you can grow with the hydroponic system. And how the system works and how the plants get their nutrients with just the water and they don't have any soil involved," said Paul Craun, a senior at Turner Ashby.

Codi Jo Wheelbarger, an agriculture teacher at Turner Ashby, says lessons like these help the high schoolers learn the information better than your standard teaching, but it's also good for the elementary schoolers to experience it.

"They think their food comes from Walmart, and so for them to get their hands dirty and see that that's not where food comes from, that should start early. So this has been a good way to incorporate that," Wheelbarger said.

The high schoolers made their own lesson plans and also taught the second graders about erosion and food production. Craun says he's learning a lot himself, especially about the strengths and weaknesses of the technology.

"I think it has its place. It can work for some places, maybe you don't have land to grow a large amount of crops. But I'm not sure if it's practical to grow all the food for, say, our country."

Autocrop says vertical farming and indoor farming is vital for the future, as the population grows and there is less space for farming.

Wheelbarger explained that, for now, they plan to stick to growing lettuce, but may try herbs in the future.