G.E.A.R. (Gahanna Employability Adult Readiness) Gardens Project

Final report for YENC23-194

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2023: $5,945.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Gahanna Jefferson School
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Manager:
Corinne Fields
Gahanna Jefferson School
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Project Information


The goal is to develop and maintain a self-funded agricultural program with a Christmas tree farm, wildflower garden, hydroponic vegetable garden, and pumpkin patch.  Through the development of this project, we will be teaching transition skills to students with disabilities ages 18-21.  Students will gain skills in independence,  employability, communication, and social skills.  We will give back to Gahanna Jefferson Schools as well as Jefferson Township and be an educational resource to our families and neighborhoods. 

Project Objectives:
  1. Our first objective is to teach employability and adult readiness skills to young adults with special needs through hands-on agricultural learning opportunities.
  2. Increase our students' understanding of farm-to-table by having them be involved in every step of the growing process. 
  3.  Students and teachers will continue to share about the GEAR Gardens Project through current social media accounts.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Tricia Twigg

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations
1 On-farm demonstrations
1 Tours

Participation Summary:

1 Farmers/ranchers
12 Youth
4 Educators
6 Other adults
Education/outreach description:

For this particular project, we consulted with Steve from Fork Farms as well as Crop King in order to make sure we were properly establishing our Fork Farm hydroponic system. We took one tour which was an on farm demonstration at the Crop King facility. At this facility, we took part in a 2 day seminar which provided us with valuable information about hydroponics systems and what it takes to be successful. This was a combination of classroom time as well as hands on experience within the greenhouse setting. We have reached out to various community organizations regarding our system and what we can donate to their cause such as a local food pantry. All of our interns in the GEAR program have participated in some way maintaining the Fork Farm. Other adults included in the process are fellow teachers, administrators and members of the Gahanna Jefferson Education Foundation. 

Learning Outcomes

14 Youth reporting change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness
Key changes:
  • Students learned how to germinate seeds and what conditions must be in place in order to ensure seedlings emerge

  • Students learned how to transplant seedlings into the Flex Farm unit

  • Students learned how to properly care for crop by checking the TDS and pH levels at least 2x a week as well as keeping water levels high enough for the Flex Farm to run without any issues

  • Students learned food safety skills including wearing gloves, aprons and hair nets in order to protect consumers when food is harvested.

  • Students learned how to harvest and package the crops (lettuce) that was grown in the Flex Farm and proper storage to keep crops fresh

  • Students engaged in daily, weekly and monthly maintenance schedules in order to keep Flex Farm clean and efficient

Results and discussion:

The Flex Farm was implemented as a daily work task for the students in our program to engage in. The purpose of having the Flex Farm in our program is to teach our students about the life cycle of produce and teach valuable work skills that are used in maintaining the Flex Farm with the end goal of harvesting produce that was grown by our students. The students had the opportunity to be involved in every aspect of the process from seed germination until harvesting and deep cleaning the unit. Students and staff both learned the differences between traditional farming and hydroponics as well as what goes into the process of operating a hydroponics system within our school. We learned about TDS (total dissolved solids) levels that are crucial for maintaining healthy plants, how to create solutions to add to our hydroponics system in order to ensure our crops are receiving an acceptable level of nutrients, how to check pH and why this is important for our plants, how to add more water to the system, cleaning the system daily vs deep cleaning the entire unit and how to follow proper food safety protocols when harvesting and packaging/storing our yield. Student levels of participation varied throughout this process though we did find that there were tasks that almost everyone enjoyed.

So far this year, we have harvested over 500 heads of lettuce and found that the Romaine variety performs better in our given environment. We had issues with keeping the Green Star lettuce fresh and non-wilty post harvest. The Romaine is much more hearty and has stayed fresh much longer compared to the other variety. Our future goal is to grow herbs such as basil, sage, thyme, rosemary, etc as well as Strawberries. We are prepared to take on any challenges that may present themselves with strawberries as it relates to pollination as well as potential pest issues that come with growing fruit bearing plants as well as powdery mildew issues. 

The Flex Farm proved to be an excellent resource for our students with multiple disabilities in providing worthwhile and engaging job tasks that relate to the food industry and custodial/cleaning jobs. 

Video highlight from project:


Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
1 New working collaboration
Success stories:

Students and staff had many opportunities to learn about Flex Farming and utilize this knowledge to put toward planting lettuce in the Flex Farm system. So far this year we have harvested beautiful heads of lettuce with almost 100% success and no pest problems to report. The difficult experiences we had were storing the Green Star lettuce effectively without it wilting immediately. When we decided to switch to Romaine lettuce, the lettuce preserved its shape much more effectively compared to the Green Star lettuce variety. The lettuce wilting immediately was our largest obstacle so far but by switching varieties, we were able to much more successfully harvest and store our yield. Students had the opportunity to take lettuce home as well as donate the harvest to a local food pantry, thus building meaningful community relationships. 


We had a great experience with the SARE grant (especially receiving a lot of guidance from Joni) and would highly recommend this grant to anyone who is interested in learning more about Flex Farming, hydroponics and sustainable agriculture practices.

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.