Greens in a Box: West Coast edition!

Last year, FreshDirect, an on-line grocery and delivery service new to the Philadelphia area, was incredibly generous in providing Sustainability Workshop students fresh healthy food. We enjoyed a wonderful variety of fresh fruits, salads, and entrees. Mango, pineapple, apples, oranges, bananas, and spinach all became staples of our diet.

Earlier this year, FreshDirect challenged Workshop students to design and build a hydroponic system to grow our own food. FreshDirect made the same challenge to another high school, the John V. Lindsay Wildcat Charter School of the Bronx. Both teams would be judged in June. During the spring we were busy researching, starting seeds, planting our raised-bed garden, and visiting a number of area farms to learn about this awesome challenge.

We visited Butter Valley Harvest in Berks County to see their hydroponic farm and eat their amazing lettuce. We traveled to Cheyney University to visit with Dr. Stephen Hughes who operates an extraordinary aquaponics set-up that raises talapia and basil. We also visited Philadelphia Urban Farms: Overbrook Environmental Education Center, the Saul High School for Agricultural Sciences, Mill Creek Farm, the Community Farm and Orchard at Bartram’s Garden and Enterprise Center Farm at 46th and Market.

FreshDirect connected us with Bruce Cobb, the owner and operator of Arc Greenhouses. Arc is a major provider of fresh produce for FreshDirect. Bruce has mentored our team throughout 2013. After meeting with Bruce, the team decided to build their hydroponic system in a recycled shipping container which donated through the good work of ILA Local 1291 and Holt Stevadores.

Students assembled the hydroponic system in the container, installed LED lights and planted different types of lettuce, many of which they had started in school. The system was monitored and tweaked, adding reflectors and additional lights. We were able to run the pumps for the system from a solar array that another group of students built. Bruce Cobb continued to give sage advice. Then, we added a second hydroponic system on top of the container! We built a greenhouse and installed the hydroponics to operate with the power of the sun. The students called their invention “Greens in a Box.”

Greens in a Box grew a wide variety of lettuce and herbs. We gave lettuce to our Board of Directors and we made salads for over a hundred people who attended our Year End Celebration.

On June 11, we traveled to New York City to present our work to a panel of judges. JVL and SW students talked about their work and the hydroponic systems they built. The judges were so impressed with both Teams that we were both declared winners.

Our prize? This week, both teams have come to San Francisco to exhibit at the Indoor Gardening Expo! We’ve been able to talk about our work with other amazing gardeners, and to learn more about how we might evolve our projects next year. What an amazing opportunity!