Hands-on hydroponic farming taught in NYC high schools

Jarule Boapeah is one of 16 special-needs students at Q721 public high school in Elmhurst, Queens, learning all about hydroponic farming — right inside the classroom.

"I love to see plants growing — I feel proud," the 12th grader said through a special communication device. 

Jarule is non-verbal but his pride and enthusiasm for farming are unmistakable. 

"We take our data and check the pH levels, the electroconductivity, which tells us the mineral nutrient level because with hydroponics we're not using any soil," special education teacher Conor Barry said. "We are using just water, and the students add nutrients when needed."

Barry swears he had no hydroponics background before teaching this class but he fooled us.

The nonprofit New York Sun Works trained teachers and set up this farming program in nearly 200 schools throughout the five boroughs and in New Jersey. About 65,000 students K-12 are harvesting crops this school year.

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"They are learning core science, they are also learning sustainability, they are learning about water conservation, they are learning about the impact of different types of farming on the environment," New York Sun Works senior development manager Elana Mass said.

Christian Gundayao, 18, shared with us his favorite crops to grow.

"Eggplant, snow peas, arugula, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers," Christian said.

Classmate Xavier Lindsay also expressed a strong passion for this unique opportunity.

"I love to see the science of growing the garden and vegetables. It is amazing," Xavier through a special device. "We are scientists in Mr. Barry's hydroponics class."

Barry said the class meets students' different sensory needs. 

"For students who are visually impaired, they are able to hear the water throughout the day, raining down the tower garden," Barry said. "They are able to taste the vegetables, smell the vegetables, to feel what they are doing. So it's a really hands-on program."

After growing the produce, the students will have another special culinary class. These young farmers will actually have the chance to cook and then sell their produce to students and staff in the building. A long-term goal is to harvest fish right at the school.