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Lettuce grown in school's hydroponic garden is on the menu

 Elise Gei and Chris Gallaga admire the healthy salad greens growing in the student seating area of the Lake Havasu High School cafeteria. “The plants grew so fast,” said Gei.
Elise Gei and Chris Gallaga admire the healthy salad greens growing in the student seating area of the Lake Havasu High School cafeteria. “The plants grew so fast,” said Gei.

Chris Gallaga has been looking forward to Friday for a full month. He gets to harvest a crop of crisp lettuce he planted Aug. 5 and serve it to hungry Lake Havasu High School students for lunch.

The teens have been watching the plants grow into a lush vertical garden of dwarf romaine and leaf lettuce. The self-contained hydroponic growing system in which the seeds were planted sits in the seating area of the school cafeteria, which is why students have been able to monitor the day-to-day growth of the plants.

Gallaga is the food service director for the Lake Havasu Unified School District. He said after Friday’s leaf harvest is washed and prepared, it will be available to students in the cafeteria’s sandwich fixings selection and salad bar.

“We’ve got 150 plants growing here. I planted 160 seeds, but 10 of them didn’t take,” Gallega said.

Removing one of the romaine plants, he and a visitor admired its healthy, extensive root system. Water dripped from the end of roots because the plant was grown in water, not soil. Hydroponic gardening has been around for decades. It’s a way to grow edible plants indoors all year round. Plants typically grow faster than if they were grown in-ground.

The $3,800 hydroponic unit was provided to the district by Taher, the contracted food service company that provides district students with meals for breakfast and lunch.

“We got the farm last February and I’ve been experimenting with it ever since,” Gallega said. “I’m their pilot program. Havasu was the first Taher school to get it. Now they’ve rolled it out at all Taher schools. I think it’s great. Kids get to see where their food comes from.”

He said he confers with other Taher food service directors, sharing growing tips and talking about hits and misses. Gallega thinks he’s got the farm figured out.

“We’re going to put a farm at Thunderbolt and the kids will be helping,” he said. The next step is to move the unit to all the elementaries so the younger set can watch the miracle of growing food.

He said the growing system is portable and only requires 10 square feet of space and a standard electrical outlet. It uses three to five gallons of Havasu tap water a week.

“The water is constantly moving. It has what amounts to a fish tank pump to do that job. The LED grow light is on 16 hours a day, so it’s pretty cheap to operate,” Gallega said.

He’s hoping that a second hydroponic farm will be added at the high school this winter. It can also be used for growing herbs.

“One Taher school is planning to grow cucumbers,” Gallega said. “I’ll be interested to see how that turns out and how they handle all the vines.”

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by Pam Ashley, Today's News-Herald
Sep 4, 2019


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