When did the Hydroponics project start?
Planning of this project began in February 2021, and we began growing with our hydroponic set-up in September 2021.
Why was it initiated? What is the intent of the project?
This project was initiated for a few different reasons. The idea to grow hydroponically was first considered to help us address food insecurity on campus. Hydroponic gardening allows us to grow plants year-round because it can be done indoors, in any type of weather. Our main objective is to supply students and the Lazy Owl bar with fresh produce, even through the winter months. In addition, the hydroponic system is a convenient way for students to have access to food that is grown right on campus.
Another reason we decided to experiment with hydroponics is because of the sustainability aspect. The hydroponic system uses substantially less water than regular gardening does. All of the nutrients used are contained entirely in the system, so there is no nutrient runoff into important waterways and ecosystems. Growing the produce directly on campus means that we get to eliminate the environmental footprint of transporting food.
A hydroponic system is an excellent tool for learning. We intend to use this project as an educational tool by guiding workshops for building at-home hydroponics. These workshops will hopefully prove that growing food at home is easier than it seems.
Why is the project important?
This project is important because it uses innovative solutions to address important problems on campus. Food insecurity is an issue on campus that URSU has been actively addressing. The hydroponic system offers a short-term solution to feed people locally and removes the barriers associated with accessing food. This project demonstrates the importance of producing locally grown produce within our communities to alleviate the stressors of food insecurity. Relying so heavily on imports to feed our society creates a very fragile food system. It is essential to know where your food comes from and to have reliance that you can access it whenever you need it.
Who have you worked with?
We purchased our hydroponic setup from ZipGrow, and they have been supporting us throughout our journey. ZipGrow offers tons of educational videos on YouTube, and they have been extremely easy to contact about any questions or concerns we have had. We have also worked with Regina’s local hydroponic shop, Whole Leaf Healing Tree, to purchase any additional supplies that we may need.
What have been the struggles so far?
So far, our greatest obstacle has been learning how the new system works and being proactive in addressing problems before they occur. Hydroponic systems can be very fickle, and if one thing goes wrong, you may wake up in the morning to wilted plants. However, the more we use the system, the more we understand how it works and what to watch out for. Another struggle has been learning the preference of each plant growing within the system. Some plants like a higher pH, while others like a lower pH, some have higher water requirements than others, etc. It is essential to learn which plants to place beside each other in the system and exactly their preferences.
What have been the successes?
Tons of fresh herbs and leafy greens for students and the Lazy Owl!
What does the future look like?
We will continue to expand and develop our hydroponic growing techniques. As we get more familiar with the system, we will be able to grow up to 320 plants every 6-8 weeks. We will also be utilizing our seedling kit in the summer months to grow seedlings for our gardening projects and perhaps give seedlings to people in our community. If our hydroponic project is successful, we may consider expanding to more systems.
How can the community help?
The community is also welcome to lend a hand growing plants if they are interested. If you have any seeds lying around that you no longer need, feel free to donate them to our project. Spread the word about local food growth, and maybe try it out yourself!
How can students help?
Students will be able to volunteer to help grow hydroponic plants starting in the new year. Keep your eye out on URSU social media for volunteer opportunities!