Olivet High School junior manages hydroponic herb gardens for school's food service program

Hydroponically grown herbs will be managed and harvested by an Eaton County 4-H and Olivet FFA teen interested in food systems.

Olivet High School Agriscience Teacher and FFA Advisor Doug Pennington and high school student and 4-H member Dalton Humphrey pose next to hydroponic garden structures. Photo courtesy of Christine Sisung.On November 28, a group of local officials met at the Olivet High School library to learn about a youth-driven hydroponic herb growing initiative. Olivet High School Junior Dalton Humphrey addressed the group with a presentation on his Michigan State University Extension Michigan 4-H and Walmart Youth Choice, Youth Voice $5,000 grant-funded project. Representatives from the Eaton County Board of Commissioners, Barry Eaton Health Department, MSU Extension, Olivet Public School Administration and School Board, Olivet and Eaton Rapids Food Service Directors and Tower Gardens were in attendance along with Humphrey’s parents.

In the fall of 2011 Humphrey, applied and was awarded grant funding to promote healthy eating and food access. The main grant objective was to be a healthy-food-choices voice to at least 250 youth. Over the year, Humphrey conducted presentations on the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate and the corresponding food groups to more than 398 youth. He was also able to install five raises-bed gardens, seven in-class grow labs and five hydroponic growing towers with his funds. Humphrey was true to his initial motive for getting involved in the grant: wanting to use his voice and actions to deliver messages of nutrition, food production, healthy food consumption and sustainable practices that create and maintain food systems.

During the November grant culmination tour he presented grant outcomes, dined with the tour group in the Olivet High School cafeteria and then show participants the hydroponic towers he purchased, installed and is now using to grow strawberries and five different herb varieties. All of these items will be used by the Olivet Public Schools food service program. While dining in the lunch room, tour goers were able to select cheese pizza topped off with the hydroponically grown herbs that had been harvested the day before. Other options included a burrito that incorporated the herbs into the filling, and a fruit and cottage cheese dish that included fresh hydroponic greens. As the student body filed through the lunch line, it was not a surprise to see that the herb pizza was chosen over the conventional cheese pizza that was also being offered that day.

The herbs that are growing in the Olivet Agriscience greenhouse will be managed by Humphrey for the next two years of his high school career. He will be responsible for maintenance of the system, harvesting and then fulfilling the orders from the cafeteria. The food service will be paying for the herbs and the funds will return to the agriscience program to purchase needed supplies to continue the project. When asked who will take Humphrey’s place after he graduates, Olivet Agriscience Teacher and FFA Advisor Doug Pennington simply stated, “I am sure there will be another student who will follow in his footsteps. This is a great project.”

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