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Students use grant-funded hydroponic gardens to grow produce in schools

Maize students watch as produce is harvested from one of the district's 35 hydroponic gardensMaize students are now enjoying the fruits — and vegetables — of their labor. 

A $51,426.50 grant from the Kansas Department of Agriculture enabled Maize USD 266 to purchase 35 hydroponic gardens, known as the “Cultivate Maize” project. The gardens were put into 14 schools, and students were tasked with planting, maintaining, and harvesting the seedlings. The project is in place at the Maize Early Childhood Center, Maize Career Academy, and all elementary, intermediate, middle, and high schools in the district.

Maize USD 266 Director of Food Service Megan Barnard“The kids are really excited to see the food that they harvested,” Megan Barnard, Director of Food Service, said. “They’re more likely to try something that they had a hand in growing.” 

Each garden is the equivalent of a 40-square-foot farm, meaning the 35 hydroponic gardens together total an impressive 1,400-square-foot farm.

In November and December, students harvested batches of kale, cabbage, several types of lettuce, spinach, arugula, snap peas, broccoli, and cauliflower, along with garlic, chives, fennel, and dill. Educators and their students more recently planted the second round of seedlings that are expected to be harvested this spring. 

The produce harvested is served in school cafeterias. Cultivate Maize will give Maize USD 266 students the unique opportunity to participate in sustainable gardening, taste and experience school-grown produce, and explore specialty crop farming as a hobby or career. 

“It’s a good life skill,” Barnard said.

Click here for additional Cultivate Maize photos.

A student showcases produce grown through the Cultivate Maize program.