Learning hydroponics and agribusiness

The Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania is a private, K-12 program that offers hands-on agricultural work experience as part of the curriculum.

Over the past three years, students built an indoor hydroponic system to grow microgreens, basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries. They now sell their produce at a student-run farmer’s market, and also to the Hotel Hershey, a local four-start resort.

Jason Smith is the school’s horticultural instructional advisor. He says one of the reasons they pursued this is to provide an authentic agribusiness that the students could take part in.

"They can see beyond the hobby side of it, they can see the career potential in horticulture. And so, now that we’re growing hydroponically in greenhouses, we have produce that we can offer and sell in the winter, in the late fall and the early spring when none of the farms in the area can touch that," says Smith. "So, we access to really high value, high-paying niche markets because of that."

The hotel purchases produce every week from the school. Students have also created and care for an herb garden at the hotel that the culinary staff use in their dishes.

Smith says this has been a rewarding experience for everyone.

"Since we started selling to the hotel in particular, I can see that satisfaction in our students. I mean, they know they’re a part of something authentic and important," he says. "If they’re putting on gloves to harvest strawberries, they’re taking food safety very seriously because we know that this food will actually be eaten by paying customers. So, for all of us, it has been very rewarding to be a part of something like this."