WINSTON — The greenhouse at Douglas High School is home to 200 hydroponic strawberry starts, growing in nutrient-rich water without soil.
“It’s pretty cool,” junior Faith Rademacher said. “I didn’t know you could grow things without soil.”
Michelle Berray teaches the class about hydroponics, but sought help from several other departments in the school when building the new set-up.
The welding class helped build the A-frame that holds the system, and the woods class built a frame that would allow space for the water tank underneath.
“It’s a basic A-frame, but we cut little strawberries in it with our CNC machine,” freshman Seth Marsh said. “I think it was pretty cool. It’s a project that will benefit the entire school.”
Douglas High School will have a new greenhouse set up by the start of the next school year, with one dedicated to traditional plant growth and the other dedicated to hydroponics.
Berray said the new direction came from Rob Holveck, the former agriculture teacher and FFA adviser, who is now the assistant principal at the high school.
“We have done an awesome job destroying our soil,” Berray said. “You can use hydroponics anywhere. This is what they’ll use in space.”
Berray wrote a Farm to School grant for this school year and received more than $6,500 to start a hydroponic system.
She didn’t know much about hydroponics when she started, but was able to get started with instructions from DC Hydroponics. When Berray found a video of a system she liked on YouTube, she was able to get help from several local businesses to help make her vision a reality.
Students at Douglas High School attend school two days a week in-person and learn virtually for the other two days.
Students are being taught how to test pH levels and how to set up the system. Berray’s hope is to teach about the nutrients in future courses, but she was mostly focused on getting the program off the ground this year.
The strawberries were planted into the hydroponic system on May 10. Each plant is in a little basket with clay pellets that provide support to the plant but no nutrients, while nutrient-enriched water continuously runs through a tubing system that feeds the roots of the plants.
The greenhouse also has a flood table, and aquaponics buckets to grow plants in different hydroponic set-ups.
“The goal is to provide greens for school lunches,” Berray said.
Some of Berray’s students grew microgreens at the start of the year, which were taste tested by many students in the school.
Ash Marcisz, a junior, said the microgreens initially tasted like grass that came out of a dumpster, but if you added it to some cream cheese it was pretty good.
When students return to school in the fall, the strawberry plants should be bearing fruit and will continue to do so year-round.