A Food Science Lab Experiment

Chicago is known as the packaged foods capital of the world. Time to add microgreen capital to the list! Carl Schurz High School’s Food Science Lab is changing not only what foods its students eat, but also adding transparency to how the foods are grown and their source. Twice a week, students come to the lab to do everything from testing the pH balance of the water to laying out burlap to grow more microgreens. The greens are harvested every week and used in the cafeteria almost daily, and of course, these advanced hydroponics and aquaponics mini farms are also growing arugula and kale. 

Jaime Guerreo is a marketing exec, trained chef, budding restaurateur and co-founder of the lab, and his mission is to teach the students in this food desert not only how to eat healthier, but also to learn everything they can about their foods. It all started when the chef started looking for a place to grow greens for his restaurant, which led him to Carl Schurz High School, where only 11 percent of the school’s graduates are “college-ready,” according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

With the help of a generous anonymous donor, they bought two do-it-yourself hydroponics and aquaponics systems, which today grow 400 pounds of food. 

The Food Science Lab is an experiment of sorts for him, too, but he admits to CivilEats.com that his focus at the moment is to help the lab get to the point where it can grow food for outside companies such as local restaurants, as well as continuing to feed the students and local food pantry participants.

This spring, his students began growing tomato seeds that traveled to space through an international program called Tomatosphere in a student-built food computer. For the school year starting this fall, raising prawns aquaponically is on the agenda. Remember sea monkeys? 

It’s not unusual for teachers to bring their lunch into the lab, says Dan Kramer, principal of the high school. “The Food Science Lab provides a beautiful, healthy space to relax and reconnect.”

Nick Greens -- that’s his real last name -- a master grower and the class’ co-teacher, estimates that it takes three-quarters of a gallon of water to grow one head of lettuce in a hydroponics system under regular conditions, compared with 3.5 gallons or more of fresh water needed to grow that same head of lettuce on a traditional farm; he hopes to train a new generation of  more technologically advanced farmers -- something all of us in the food industry should hope for and support.

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