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Lee County Schools granted $100k for farm-to-school project expansion

Posted at 4:59 AM, Aug 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 04:59:27-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — More farm-to-school projects will be seeing a boom starting soon in Lee County Schools.

The Lee County School District is the recent recipient of a special $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s to help fund farm-to-school projects, expanding school gardens to help provide food to their school cafeterias.

"When you grow things hydroponically, it really is the way to go. Especially in the times of global warming and we have a lot of blue-green algae.”

At Island Coast High School, a project years in the making is now changing the way students learn.

“We prove sustainability," says Joe Mallon, teacher of Academy of Natural Resources at Island Coast High School. "And we’ve done it, through hydroponics, alternative energy, aquaponics, and aquaculture.”

Students learn hands-on at the school’s Academy of Natural Resources. They learn to build and maintain a hydroponics farm with plants and fish. And just like what they’re producing, the program is growing.

“We have $100,000 to help put fresh produce on students' plates," says Susie Hassett, Environmental Education Resource Teacher for Lee County School District. "Here at Island Coast, they have been the model school to help us learn how to do that and they are going to continue teaching other schools how to do that as well.”

The class has been supplying produce at the school and others for years. It’s arranged so upper class-men teach lower class-men, helping them become self-sufficient. Now, thanks to a federal grant, they’ll be the model for future projects throughout the district.

"It brings a lot of hope because it increases food security for a lot of families, it teaches them to grow their own food, and fresh local food helps us offset transportation costs and the issues of the supply chain," said Hassett. "So we are so excited that we are going to be solving a lot of problems.”

As sophisticated as the science may sound, what students are learning in the classroom can be applied to everyday life.

"We grow so many types of plants that my students are learning you’re taking the carbon out of the atmosphere and then creating food and creating oxygen," said Mallon. "They also know that this program has a negative carbon footprint. So it’s really all about what are we teaching them not only for now but what are we teaching for generations to come.”

Helping pave the way for a greener, more sustainable future.

"Students can really educate adults because they get out in the community and they explain the sustainability and how they can make a difference," said Hassett. "That inspires adults to try to do the same thing and to do their part.”

"If I teach one hundred kids and I get through ten of them and those ten get through ten, it’s exponential," says Mallon. "Hopefully, we get to the point where I’m starting to see that exponential growth in what we’re doing.”