Las Vegas-based nonprofit Green Our Planet announces free hydroponics programs for all Title I schools in Nevada.
Green Our Planet, a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Las Vegas encouraging school gardening, sustainability and nutrition programs, is encouraging Title I schools across Nevada to apply for grant funding for its HydroConnect hydroponics systems by Nov. 23.
The funding, provided by a recent grant from the Engelstad Foundation, will give students an opportunity to develop hydroponics programs at their school sites. Teachers or administrators can encourage student bodies to grow plants Green Our Planet’s nutrient-rich solution that requires less than 80% water instead of traditional outdoor gardens rather than being planted directly in soil.
Suzie Petronzi, education and engagement manager of Green Our Planet, said thanks to the support of Gov. Joe Lombardo and cosponsors of Senate Bill 341, a section of which designated $3 million to Green Our Planet for its school garden programs this past legislative session, the nonprofit was able to expand its programs in the state. The funding allows it to provide the first 50 schools that apply for the hydroponics programs to receive it at a cost of $2,000. They originally had been priced at $10,000.
“The big piece is we want to make sure we have full support for teachers,” she said. “With this program, we understand how busy they are.”
The next cohort begins in January, so after reviewing applications and acceptance, Green Our Planet can ship out the materials to help schools set up their program early in the spring semester, get their garden growing and help students see their results before the end of the school year at an affordable cost. It also helps to tie in career and technical education aspects and science, technology, engineering and mathematics components as students learn how to set up a garden and learn about the hydroponics, she said.
Additionally for students, initiating an environmentally conscious program not only increases academic performance, Petronzi said, but it connects them with the community.
“I know at Carson City School District, they really want to nurture that entrepreneurial piece,” she said. “The hope is we have these farmers’ markets across the state of Nevada, like around Earth Day. What we want to bring communities and students is that experience of running their own business and marketing plans. Carson City was a part of that last year.”
Schools have been known to produce leafy greens such as kale, butter and romaine lettuce and herbs and other vegetables, Petronzi said. They’ve also seen gardens grow cilantro, chives, parsley, pomegranate, tomatoes and eggplant.
“My favorite has been radish,” she said. “They’re almost square-shaped. The sky’s the limit. We have other schools growing pumpkin. Just having experiments, that’s the fun.”
Listing some positive examples in Northern Nevada of schools that have begun building Green Our Planet’s hydroponics program successfully, Petronzi referred to Douglas County’s Jacks Valley Elementary School, Washoe County’s Huffaker Elementary School, Nye County’s Tonopah Middle School, White Pine County’s David E. Norman Elementary School and Storey County’s Virginia City High School that began at the elementary level and expanded.
Carson City’s Empire Elementary School is a veteran of the program, going on its fourth year.
“To me, this is a testament of what the program can do over time with dedication and commitment within a school to provide hands-on STEM education to the students,” Petronzi said. “It's a beautiful thing.”
The Engelstad Foundation, founded in 2002, was created by investor and construction company owner Ralph Engelstad and wife Betty who moved to Las Vegas in 1962. The foundation’s charitable work focuses on education, health care and child care issues in North Dakota, Mississippi, Utah and Nevada.
The application is available at www.greenourplanet.org and takes about 30 to 45 minutes to complete. A letter of support from the administration will be requested. Applications will be reviewed in December and welcome letters will be sent out by Christmas break, Petronzi said.