Hydroponics-Based Sustainable Agriculture Vocational Training Opportunity for Students with Multiple Disabilities

Progress report for YENC23-192

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2023: $3,342.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Edgewood High School
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Manager:
Holly Dainton
Edgewood High School
Project Co-Managers:
Patti Bowers
Edgewood City Schools
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Project Information


Through providing my high school students with multiple disabilities hands-on experience growing their own food utilizing hydroponics in the classroom setting, they will learn about and see first-hand what sustainable agriculture, social responsibility and having a self-sustaining food supply looks like.  Given a controlled environment and supports, our students will gain employability skills as well as life skills through this opportunity. Connection with local farmers (traditional and hydroponic) will encourage job exploration and transfer of skills learned to a competitive gainful community employment setting.  Pairing with typical "Buddies" from our school's FFA program will enhance the experience for all. 

Project Objectives:
  1. Introduce students with multiple disabilities to hydroponic farming as a sustainable and environmentally responsible method for food production.
  2. Give students on-site, hands-on vocational training through employability skills experience with hydroponic growing systems.
  3.  Make local connections for students with area farmers (traditional and hydroponic) to see transfer of skill and potential for future gainful competitive community employment opportunities.
  4. Inform our school's community of our experiences through social media, presentation at a board meeting, news coverage and offer abundance of produce grown with potential of fundraising as a means to continue the project into the future. 
  5. Inspire our students and their families to adopt health consious eating habits by exposing them to and providing them with nutritious and delicious produce.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Kellie Beiser (Educator)

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations
1 Other educational activities: Our students visited the vocational agriculture classroom in our school to see their hydroponics tower and units. The teacher gave us some "extra" lettuce plug starts that they were not going to use that we tried in our desktop systems.

Participation Summary:

16 Youth
2 Educators
6 Other adults
Education/outreach description:

Upon the return to school this fall, we were informed that our department would only be allowed 4 field trips this school year, one of which had already been predetermined.  We are working on maximizing the trips to cover everything we need them to include - and are hopeful that one trip this spring will be in conjunction with a local farm or hydroponics farmer.  I have been cultivating a relationship with a local farmer who has a farm store and CSA in our school's community.  She said that having my students visit would be very difficult with their farm's schedule and family commitments.  There are others in our area, and I will continue to seek out the opportunities we are in need of. 

Learning Outcomes

16 Youth reporting change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness
Key changes:
  • We, as a class, are learning what does NOT work.

Results and discussion:

Equipment has arrived.

While students are excited about growing their own food, and have seen and benefited from a successful model, our classroom experience has not yet been successful.  We have learned that life is fragile and ALL conditions have to be in balance in order for life to thrive.  Students are learning the process of trial and error and that we will continue to try.  (Many life parallels here for my students with multiple disabilities!)

Here is a narrative of our experience thus far:

Last spring, the week before spring break when I attended the Grower's Workshop at Crop King, I personally spoke to our district treasurer and superintendent together, prior to a board meeting.  I asked what needed to happen in order to make whatever adjustments may be necessary to accommodate electrical needs of the hydroponic equipment I would be acquiring the following week.  They assured me that once it was here, anything that needed to be adjusted would be done if I put in a work order.  With that in mind, I was proactive and inquired to Crop King about what kind of plugs / outlets and power supply would be necessary.  I passed that information along to our maintenance head, who said it wouldn't require anything special.  When I returned to school with the equipment, I invited the maintenance staff to come see what was needed.  They looked and said everything was standard.  I requested assistance / advice re: how to run the electricity (power strips, extension cords, etc).  The work load was backed up, and nothing was completed. 

8/2/23 - In preparation for the new school year, I set up the equipment and again requested maintenance to come advise how to run the power.  

8/9/23 - I received an email from the Business and Facilities Coordinator who said that my work request had been received but that if the work could not be completed in house with supplies already on hand, the project would not move forward.  I reminded them of the agreements that had been made in the spring, and of the contract in place. 

Late August, maintenance came in to look at how the electricity sources were configured and made a plan to run conduit above the space and drop down to where the units were set up - however the materials were not readily available.  In September, maintenance came in with pieces of materials they had removed from another building, and configured it above my units with a drop down box. I was told to run a power strip from the box to accommodate the plugs.  I personally purchased power strips, only to find that the orientation of the outlets would not accommodate the plugs and the number of outlets needed exceeded availability.  I again asked for purchasing advice, and was shown one that was suggested.  We then ordered that power strip that "should be right."  They arrived in October.

Late October through December: In the meantime, we started our lettuce and tomato seeds.  When the power situation was rectified, we moved our lettuce seedlings to the desktop units.  They failed to thrive and died.  We repeated the process twice.  Our tomato seeds never grew large enough to put in the BATO Bucket system.  The Vocational Agriculture teacher in our building gave us some of her lettuce seedlings that were ready to transplant.  They were sown in a different growing medium, which she said was worth trying to see if it was our medium or our systems that were not right.  These plants also died.  

It was discovered on 1/5/24 that the systems had mold growing in the water wells and tracks.  We have been in touch with Crop King since then to determine the best way to eradicate the mold and problem solve / correct the issues.  That communication is still in process.  If it wasn't for the support of Crop King, I wouldn't know how to problem solve what is happening.  They have sent me a video and we are in communication about what has happened and how to move forward.  We will likely need to replace tubing, but the equipment itself has been cleansed properly.  We also need to acquire additional seeds.  Once these things have happened, we will start over.  

From all of this, my students have learned that there is a lot of "hurry up and wait" and things often do not turn out as anticipated.  Nonetheless, they also are seeing perseverance and problem solving and I believe that this model will prove in the long run that continuing to try and taking risks is better than quitting and giving up - and my hope is that in the end when they are enjoying fresh produce with their families, we will be able to discuss the importance of tenacity.  

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project

The support I have received from Crop King has been essential to this process.  We are continuing to problem solve together in order to determine / correct the challenges we have had with our projects.  

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.