4-H member uses grant, hydroponics to enhance community’s food system

One Michigan 4-H member in Eaton County made a choice to educate youth in two Michigan school systems, communicating a message of nutrition and hands-on learning in areas that had few healthy-living-focused programs for youth.

Recognizing the role that nutrition plays in the lives of all, one Michigan 4-H member in Eaton County chose to educate youth in two Michigan communities, communicating a message of nutrition and hands-on learning in areas that had few healthy-living-focused programs for youth.  

Dalton Humphrey, a 16-year-old junior at Olivet High School, was awarded a $5,000 Youth Voice, Youth Choice grant from a partnership between the Walmart Foundation and National 4-H. Grants are awarded by the groups to develop or enhance programs that focus on healthy living -- specifically, those that have impact on young people and the communities they live in.

Humphrey, under the encouragement of Michigan State University Extension educator Becky Henne, applied for the grant and used the award to educate children in Eaton County through both a traditional classroom approach and a hands-on style that directly engaged the students with the subject matter his lessons focused on. 

“In Eaton Rapids, I and a few others went into seven classrooms [and installed] small grow labs – the students grew vegetables such as corn, pumpkins, lettuce and radishes,” Humphrey explained. “We taught them about the food groups, nutrition and MyPlate. Once the seedlings were big enough, we built five raised-bed gardens outside of their classrooms and transplanted the seedlings so they could [continue to] watch them grow.” 

The youth in these classrooms ranged from kindergarten to third grade and gained firsthand knowledge of how food is grown, how it works as part of a food system and how it should be used in their daily diets as the best means of meeting daily nutritional needs. 

Humphrey used the grant to serve youth in the Olivet school system as well.

 “With that grant, he was able to purchase five hydroponic tower units to grow five herb varieties for the Olivet food service program,” Henne explained. “He’s growing, harvesting and delivering the herbs to the food service director. The hydroponic herbs are more nutritious than conventionally grown herbs, so it’s a boost to [the youths’] health [because Olivet can] offer a more nutritious product to the students who eat in the cafeteria.”

The food service will pay for the herbs, allowing the agriscience program to purchase the supplies needed to continue the project. The towers are managed by Humphrey and his botany teacher, Doug Pennington, but are maintained by the botany class at Olivet High School.

“The botany class takes care of the plants and the greenhouse in general. For the hydroponic towers specifically, I have a few students monitoring the pH and the electroconductivity; as they monitor that, they’re learning how to add acid to bring the pH down or add water to bring it back up,” Pennington said. “We go into the ’why’ – the actual science – in the classroom. I think it’s cool that this opportunity allows them to [experience the ’how’] and do more than just learn about it.”

In using the grant to create a sustainable project, Humphrey worked to directly meet the nutritional needs of the youth in those Michigan communities. These students have the opportunity to move beyond learning about good nutrition to actually experiencing good nutrition.

“The students at the school have that opportunity to taste that fresh herb that’s grown right here on site,” Henne concluded. “[Humphrey] has done a tremendous amount with the $5,000 that he was awarded; I really applaud him for his efforts."

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