Hydroponics farm opens on former Howenstine High campus


What started as a simple phone call to our community food bank has turned into a pivotal partnership that will yield crucial learning experiences for our students. Merchant's Garden, a local urban grower in hydroponics, has partnered with Tucson Unified School District using facilities at the previously closed Howenstine High School campus to create an urban hydroponics farm.

"We get a lot of kids excited about growing food," said Moses Thompson, who works in tandem with Tucson Unified and the University of Arizona as the School Garden Program Coordinator. "It's really an important link to connect them with growers that do it as a part of their employment."

The plan is for Tucson Unified's Food Services Department to develop an educational component using Merchant's Garden's new resource. Students will travel through a field trip station at the site, where they will learn about aqua and hydroponic systems. In order to help fund the joint venture, the Food Services department applied for and received a grant through Sprouts Healthy Community Foundation.

"This is a true example of a community business and educational organization partnership," explained Shirley Sokol, the Director of Food Services for Tucson Unified.

The Food Services department also plans to purchase produce from Merchant's Garden to include in lunch menus at Tucson Unified. The goal is to provide students with an engaging experience of food production at every level in order to help them understand where food comes from, mirroring on a large scale what Moses Thompson already does with his School Garden Program.

"It's really exciting to take kids here and show them the principals of the projects that they're doing… and show them how a local business is doing this," exclaimed Moses. "This isn't science in a book, this is science that helps us grow food more efficiently."

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