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Wisconsin school grows crops in hydroponics system

(Image Courtesy MGN Online)

PLYMOUTH, Wis. (AP) -- Students at a private school in eastern Wisconsin are growing their own food for lunch in the school's cafeteria.

The hydroponics system at St. John Lutheran School in Plymouth is part of a pilot program through the nonprofit Feeding America, USA Today Network-Wisconsin reported.

The system is kept in a large plastic shell and was installed about a month ago. Nutrient-rich water is cycled through the system and enables growth without the need for soil.

"In this day and age of conservation and resources, what a great way to show the students every day that there are ways to try and be a little more self-sustaining and have less of an impact on the environment," said Jay Lindsey, the school's principal. "Along the lines of problem-solving, it's a great educational tool for the kids."

Students have tried planting lettuce so far. Science teacher Libby MacGillis planted starfighter lettuce seeds in the classroom before students helped transfer the plants to the hydroponics system. The lettuce is a fast-growing and high-yielding green.

"They grow really, really fast. They sprout in about 24 hours," MacGillis said. "We'll plant them one day and by the next day I'll already have plants."

Cafeteria staff then used the lettuce for the salad bar, Lindsey said.

"We'll grow other crops, but we did this first because we know it works really well," MacGillis said. "We might try strawberries and peppers."

It took the school time to find the right water and nutrient balance for the plants. The first batch of crops was killed when the water in the system leaked out overnight. The problems were worth it after seeing the students' excitement, MacGillis said.

"They loved it," she said. "Everyone wanted to try it."

The school has about 200 students from 3-year-olds to eighth graders.

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