Organization Spotlights

Farming in the Desert: How one Arizona School is Teaching Agriculture for the Future

by James Winstel | January 28, 2020

Queen Creek's two greenhouses produce a variety of flowers and produce while battling the hot Southwestern environment

Aleah Shook, a teacher at Queen Creek High School in the arid Arizona climate, challenges students to design and build their own hydroponic grows in the classroom.

The OneGrow team was thrilled to speak with Aleah Shook, an FFA (Future Farmers of America) Advisor and agriculture teacher at Queen Creek High School outside Phoenix, Arizona. Aleah has helped develop Queen Creek’s Ag program featuring two full-functioning greenhouses and numerous outdoor beds that produce hanging tomatoes, flowers, citrus trees, peas, and much more, all within the sweltering southwestern climate. The program has facilitated students’ interest in agriculture through hands-on education, even leaving them with a desire to eat the produce they’ve grown.

             

In addition to conventional soil-based practices, Aleah has also tasked students to design and build their own hydroponic and aquaponic systems in class. Students are divided into small groups with a budget of $50 to develop working growing systems. From compiling a budget for materials, to researching different growing techniques, and finally producing food, these high schoolers learned numerous topics in STEM, personal finance, agribusiness, and plant biology. Aleah remarked on how much students loved exploring the emerging world of Controlled Environment Agriculture and how some are now pursuing career paths in related fields.

Raised bed gardens being prepared for student class projects

While Queen Creek has already developed an inspiring program in just three years, Aleah looks forward to the future of the program with big plans. The school is looking to expand the current platform to include an additional agriculture teacher and install aquaponic tanks for an even deeper experience for students. She realizes that many youths are missing out on knowing the answers to such simple yet integral questions as where their food is grown and hopes to involve more students in the upcoming years. By giving them the power to research and design their own systems, Aleah is equipping students with the business and technical skills they can use to attack 21st century problems in science and agriculture, especially in a world of rising temperatures and water scarcity.  

       

Additional raised beds require almost constant watering to keep up with the extreme climate of Arizona.

For other teachers or parents looking to try a similar hydroponic activity for youth, students discovered that YouTube, social media, and a little digging on the internet can go a long way. What OneGrow has discovered in speaking with teachers utilizing hydroponics and other agriculture within their curriculum is a boost in student engagement and retention of STEM materials. We are only seeing the very beginning of its capabilities in the classroom. 

       

 

If you would like to learn more about the Queen Creek Unified School District, check out the link here.

 

 

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James Winstel is OneGrow's Co-Director, Director of Marketing & Acquisitions, and Co-Founder. He studies at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.