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MACHIPONGO –– Seventh graders at Northampton Middle School will sink their teeth into the future of agriscience as they grow leafy crops in the classroom with their new hydroponic system.

The LF-ONE hydroponic system, provided by HYVE Indoor Farming Systems, was presented at a special assembly on Nov. 25 by Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom, in association with the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution that does not require soil or natural sunlight. Science teachers across the state applied for a grant to win the HYVE system, valued at $1,000. Northampton Middle was one of two schools selected. Educators submitted essays explaining why their students should receive the hydroponic system.

“It was hard to choose,” said Tammy Maxey, senior education manager for Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom. “We had applicants from the farthest east to the farthest west, Northampton all the way to Lee County to Alexandria, representing the K-12 spectrum at public and private schools. There were several educators who told a compelling story, and the cream of that crop were our winners.”

Northampton life science instructor Benjamin Prylinski kept the announcement quiet because he wanted his students to be surprised at the presentation.

“Hydroponics, in my eyes, is the future of agriculture,” he said, noting the vast acres of farmland students see every day on their school commute. The water-based growing medium is a fresh approach to the Eastern Shore’s enduring agricultural tradition. “We’re going to take it to the next level. This hydroponic system will promote so many great educational experiences for us.”

Maxey said Agriculture in the Classroom staff sought recipients who would use the system continually in their school, “to have a long-standing impact, not just for 2019, but for the next several years.”

HYVE donated the two hydroponic systems to support the program in Virginia, and is involved with Agriculture in the Classroom at the national level.

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“There are over 9 billion people in the world, and not all of them live in places with land all around them, like we’re lucky to have on the Eastern Shore,” Maxey said at the presentation. “People live in very crowded areas and need options on how to grow their food. In your lifetime, you will have to come up with more options.” Students vocalized interest in agricultural career paths she listed – electronics engineer, chef, researcher or inventor.

David L. Hickman, who represents Eastern Shore farmers on the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board, said it’s useful for students to see alternate farming techniques.

“Students will ride by those big fields and know they can grow food in a small location, whether it be 30 degrees or 80 degrees outside,” Hickman said.

Seventh-grader Paris Reid is ready to assemble the hydroponic system. The kit includes seeds for basil and lettuces.

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“They say it’s faster to grow stuff, and I want to see how fast, and see what it tastes like,” she said. “I like Mr. Prylinski’s projects. When we have a hard subject, he teaches it well, so we can understand it more.”

School district leaders also participated in the presentation. Associate Superintendent Dr. Christine L. Hill said it’s important for students to understand the resources available to them, and possible agricultural career opportunities.

“Having that experience in the classroom mirrors what actually is occurring on the Eastern Shore,” she said.

Superintendent Charles Eddie Lawrence added, “Living here on the Eastern Shore, agriculture is such a vital part of our life and economy, it’s natural that students learn about hydroponics, as the future of agriculture continues to evolve.”

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Principal Ron Yorko thanked Prylinski for going above and beyond for his students.

“We’ll have this rocking and rolling in the near future, and I can’t wait to eat some lettuce.”

Agriculture in the Classroom is a national program that promotes greater understanding of agriculture through education. The Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom is a nonprofit organization that receives financial and administrative support from Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.