In the fall of 2018, Campbell Hall installed vertical hydroponic gardens, a micro-farming system that utilizes 90% less water than traditional gardens. Made up of 8 stands with a total capacity of more than 220 plants, the school’s urban farm has yielded more than 600 pounds of produce to date, all of which have been donated to the poverty relief nonprofit organization MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity) which serves some of the most vulnerable individuals in Los Angeles County. In addition to being a more sustainable growing system, these gardens also have a shorter growing cycle, allowing produce to be harvested more frequently, about 50-60 pounds of leafy greens every 4-6 weeks when in operation. Because of this, Campbell Hall can provide a greater abundance of nutritious food to our neighbors in need.
“MEND prizes our donated greens,” notes Director of Community Service and Outdoor Service Learning Coordinator Jonny Rodgers. “They are organic and pesticide free, they have an extremely low carbon footprint compared to all of their other donated produce, and we are able to donate them with the roots attached, allowing families to replant and grow their own at home should they choose to do so.”
Lettuce Grow, whose mission is to democratize the growing of food for all, installed the gardens and provided initial training to faculty and students on how to maintain them. This year, Karl Frank’s CHAI Environmental Science students and a dedicated group of volunteers from the Urban Stewards club representing all high school grade levels have taken up the mantle of maintaining the gardens. In the beginning of the fall, students began germinating lettuce seeds in their classrooms and when they were ready, transferred the seedlings to the towers. They tended the gardens over several weeks, making sure they were watered and fertilized. When they were on the cusp of harvesting their first crop, the students were disappointed to find that the plants had experienced a pH imbalance, causing the plants to fail over the course of a weekend. This proved to be a “teachable moment,” as students had the opportunity to learn about the appropriate chemical balance of nutrients in the ‘broth’ that is fed to the growing plants. Undeterred, the students began the process all over again. This time, their harvest was a success! They were able to cultivate 150 lettuce plants for donation to MEND.
Hayley K. ’24 says: “It’s a good learning experience taking care of the plants and keeping them healthy. It’s quite rewarding remembering that what you're doing helps those in need and the produce will go to families who truly need it.”
Shaye G. ’22 says of her experience working on the garden: “Taking care of the lettuce towers gives me a strengthened sense of community as I can actively see the benefit. Also, in the past, I have realized that most food donated to drives are usually canned or boxed food so I think it’s great that we are supplying fresh produce as everyone should have access to healthy food.”
Faculty members such as Greg Williams
, Karl Frank
and Jonny Rodgers
are finding ways to connect students to nature, providing innovative service learning opportunities, and integrating sustainability measures into the curriculum. Mr. Frank explains: “We know that rising food costs are linked to climate change. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
, food deserts are ‘areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.’ Los Angeles is one city among many where food deserts are linked with systemic racial injustice as a result of decades of redlining and discriminatory lending practices. Learning about environmental justice in class is one thing, but when students can physically engage with the work of feeding hungry people, they are bound to feel a deeper connection to the issue. And, as LA food justice activist Ron Finley notes: ‘Learning to grow your own food is like printing your own money.’”
*The funds to build the gardens were generously donated by a grant provided by The I.N. and Susanna Van Nuys Foundation.