Around F.C.

MHS Environmental Club Harvests & Donates from Hydroponic System

By Julia Hall, Piper Cannon and Isabella Costa

In December 2022, Environmental Club students at Meridian High School planted eight dozen seeds in a hydroponic growth system located right in the building. In February, the same students harvested produce from all 96 seed pods, which amounted to almost nine pounds of edible greens such as lettuce, basil, and cilantro. 

According to senior and Environmental Club president Anna Dickson, Meridian has been growing produce hydroponically since last school year. “This year, we started planting the lettuce and herbs in the hydroponic tables and then would tend to them throughout the next month or so,” Dickson said. “After six weeks, we had a meeting where we collected lettuce and herbs and packaged them up.”

Club members were looking to use the hydroponic system and its harvest as an opportunity to benefit those in need. During their February meeting, the Environmental Club partnered with Hands On Harvests (HOH), a Falls-Church based nonprofit that teaches people how to grow food and makes it easy to donate surplus harvest. In the school’s case, HOH is delivering the harvest to Food for Others.

Environmental Club members Jane Fiegel (left) and Anna Dickson (right) clean their harvested lettuce to prepare it for donation.

Hands on Harvest was an idea that came about during the Covid-19 pandemic when local food pantries were experiencing an increase in demand for food. Their mission is to increase the amount of access to fresh produce and at the same time, reduce the amount of food waste. By being part of the Grow A Row program, Meridian was able to use their hydroponic garden to donate around nine pounds of fresh produce to people who need it. The Environmental Club students plan to continue this project and provide a sustainable way of growing and harvesting delicious vegetation. “We had to deconstruct, wash, and clean everything, and then replant,” Dickson said. “We are currently growing a second round of produce for donation.”

Hydroponics involves using water-based mineral nutrient solutions as opposed to soil when growing plants. One major benefit of this system is that it produces between three and ten times more food than backyard soil agriculture while using the same, or even less, space and significantly less water. 

Hydroponic growing towers. (Photo: Carey Pollack)

This means that Meridian’s single vivarium room is able to hold four hydroponic systems, along with many other sustainable projects.  “Harvesting took only 20-25 minutes, since there were a lot of kids to help out and we used an assembly line system,” Dickson said. 

Another convenience about this system is that there is no need to use pesticides or herbicides to protect crops. Meridian has not experienced any issues with bugs or insects eating the greens, and this has improved the quality and quantity of the donations. 

Hydroponics is an amazing way to combat climate change because it prevents the cross contamination of soil and water with fertilizer. Not only do they provide a simple, clean way to efficiently grow fresh produce, but hydroponic gardens also help build more sustainability in the community. 

To set an example here in Falls Church City, Meridian currently has two tower gardens and two nutrient film technique systems that successfully grow greens, vegetables, and native wetland plants. After a successful first round of growth and harvest, the project continues to expand as Meridian students do their part to create a more sustainable future. 

“It’s been interesting to see how fast you can grow beautiful vegetables, and it was really cool to have found an organization who can use this produce for people who truly need it,” Dickson said. “It gave us a real sense of accomplishment.”