Inspiring Future Hydroponic Farmers

StartUp Roots helps youth grow by growing food.

Student stands next to hydroponic lettuce

(Photo courtesy of StartUp Roots)

Teaching the next generation is an effective way to transform the future. A nonprofit in Israel has taken this to heart by greening schools with soilless farming. StartUp Roots is teaching socio-economically challenged students about hydroponics, and as a result, they are learning nutrition, sustainability, science, and entrepreneurship.

Robin Katz, founder and SEO of StartUp Roots, told The Jerusalem Post, “Many children think that lettuce comes from the grocery store. They have no concept of the chain behind it. So we try to connect kids with the source of their food.”

Katz started her nonprofit in 2014, realizing that many children have no access to fresh, healthy, and affordable produce. According to the StartUp Roots site, she was drawn to hydroponics because this soilless farming system uses 90 percent less water, yields more plants per meter than traditional framing, and is pesticide free.

Their first project created a soilless farm using just 100 square meters of a school. They started out by growing 14 plants per meter, double the yield of traditional farming. The students were excited to see results in just 30 days and were soon able to produce 1500 vegetables per month!

Working with science teachers, StartUp Roots builds a curriculum around the farm with students learning science and nutrition. They also learn entrepreneurship by monetizing their crop, as well as photojournalism by documenting the process. In addition, the organization has brought in dieticians to teach the impact that food choices have on health.

The organization soon improved their methods by installing vertical farming systems that can sit in hallways when schools are tight on space. Since the first school installation, their yield has improved dramatically, resulting in the production of 120 plants per meter.

As additional schools show interest in this program, more hydroponic systems are being installed in Israeli schools. StartUp Roots has more exciting plans underway, including: a summer enrichment program where participants will 3D print their hydroponic kits; an educational farm in Beer Sheva that will connect with 45 regional schools; and an affiliation with a high school biotechnology program. 

In order to educate the general population, the organization is also working alongside the Botanical Gardens of Jerusalem to create an interactive urban agriculture exhibit.

Their projects are transforming students by turning them into interactive learners. These youth have become so fascinated by the process, they are eagerly researching plant seeds and are growing microgreens, leafy herbs and greens, and sprouts. Fostering an entrepreneurial spirit, students then developed a healthy hydro-shake to sell at school, while others are selling organic produce to local communities.

“There is no greater pleasure than to watch students grow by growing,” Katz told The Jerusalem Post. Aside from producing organic vegetables in schools, StartUp Roots is figuratively planting roots in this young generation, inspiring them to lead healthier, more environmentally-friendly lives.

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