Team:Cornell/HP/Gold Integrated

<!DOCTYPE html> Practices


The start of every venture begins with research. Before we began, we only had general knowledge of hydroponics, and a limited understanding of oxidative stress damage and benefits. These topics, however, are fundamental to how Oxyponics works and how it will be applied. We knew we needed to understand the intricacies of the problem, the industry we were trying to break into, the needs and wants of the end users, the science behind the design, the environmental impact of our system, and the communities that would be affected by advances in hydroponics.

We set out on a mission to interact with, learn from, and integrate feedback from scientists in the field, existing businesses, our end users, and community leaders. We implemented the principles of design thinking to: first, identify the problem to be solved; second, go to the users to find how to solve the problem in the best way; and third, get user feedback on what we developed.

We developed our project using the expertise and personal accounts of the individuals we spoke to, from the beginning stages of conceptualization to the end creation of our project.

We simultaneously conducted interviews best organized into five categories, seen in the tabs below. Interviews in each category were conducted with interwoven timelines that spanned the development of our project. This method let us organically gain insights about a large range of aspects relevant to OxyPonics, and led us to see how far-reaching our project was, even beyond just improving plant growth. We gained a sense of how our Oxyponics would fit into the larger industry and how our biocircuit could have further applications. The learnings from all of our research and interviews were put together like puzzle pieces to make informed decisions regarding product development and to envision product impacts.

Throughout the process of bringing a product to reality with truly integrated human practices, we spoke to over 45 contacts:

5 oxidative stress researchers,
6 plant biologists,
30 hydroponic crop growers,
4 hydroponic supplies vendors,
2 community leaders.

Some additional individuals are included in the Policies section, where we also discuss our project’s legalities, safety, risks, ethics, and environmental impact. Here we thematically highlight the most impactful interviews that we had and the key takeaways from our conversations.
Oxidative Stress Researchers


Although for OxyPonics we chose to ultimately focus on the field of hydroponics, we did not forget the wide applicability our biocircuit might have in a variety of sectors. Our biocircuit senses relative levels of reactive oxidative species (ROS) in living systems utilizing fluorescent fusion proteins. By coupling these proteins with light sensitive expression of an antioxidant, we can respond to and regulate ROS levels to a setpoint we decide. This biocircuit can be used to optimize cell growth and minimize damage.

Cornell is an academic research hub with researchers studying oxidative stress in a range of contexts in multiple fields. We tapped into the accessible depth and breadth of knowledge on campus not only to evaluate and validate the conceptual aspects of our potential circuit, but to gain perspective into what other applications our ROS biocircuit could be adapted to. Furthermore, we learned what key considerations to keep in mind as we made decisions concerning our biocircuit and other OxyPonics components.

Key Takeaways

  • Oxidative stress harms living cells and limits what research can performed on them. Our oxidative stress quenching biocircuit could expand research possibilities in the fields of cell and molecular biology as well as biological engineering.
  • ROS can cause damage to DNA and high levels will be harmful to plants.
  • Oxidative stress is a feature of plants’ immune response and small amounts can promote plant health. Hence, a minimum level of ROS should also be maintained.
  • E. coli and plants may not be able to grow together. We need to develop a physical barrier to enclose the bacteria.
  • Plants can release oxidants through their roots when stressed, so this would be an ideal location for our biological sensor to be positioned.
MAY 10, 2017

Dr. Yimon Aye

Our first interview, before we had come to a final decision about our project, was with Dr. Yimon Aye, a notable researcher in the area of redox targeting for medical application in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cornell University. Professor Aye was excited about our use of the redox sensitive fluorescent protein. She affirmed the novelty of our idea to couple this fusion protein to graded response against ROS, and acknowledged that it would pave the way to creating more robust biological circuits in cells by being able to control damage caused by oxidative stress. Professor Aye also commented on potential obstacles that we might encounter, and pushed us to think about the number of parts our plan would require. Her insight and support led us to understand how our ROS-regulating biocircuit could be used as a tool in further synthetic biology advances. Additionally, we identified a need for heightened protection against ROS, which was taken into consideration when designing and assembling the biobricks we decided upon.

JUNE 16, 2017

Dr. Greg Martin

To transition from the lab to the greenhouse, we talked to Dr. Greg Martin of Plant Pathology and Plant Microbe Biology to better understand ROS in plants. Professor Martin researches the effect of ROS and disease in plants. With respect to oxidative species, Martin stressed the importance of ROS in the first and secondary lines of immune defense in plants. We learned that we needed to carefully control how much native ROS we quench in the plant, as quenching too much could make them more susceptible to disease. This idea was integrated into the biological circuit we developed. Instead of only lowering ROS levels, by having antioxidant product coupled to a light sensitive promoter we could also turn expression off to maintain a minimum level of oxidative stress.

JUNE 20, 2017

Dr. Maria Harrison

As we learned more about ROS in plants, we also wanted to learn more about how microbes interacted with plants. We reached out to Dr. Maria Harrison, an adjunct professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science, conducting research on the mechanisms underlying symbiosis between plants and fungal symbionts. By understanding how fungi interacted with plants, we were hoping to understand how E. coli might interact with our plants. We learned that there would be a big hurdle to having our E. coli survive with the plants: E. coli were optimized for the gut, while fungi have co-evolved with plants. This fed into the design decision to have our E. coli contained within dialysis tubing and put close proximity to the plants rather than in direct contact with them.

JUNE 26, 2017

Dr. Tim Setter

If the E. coli weren’t going to be in direct contact with the plant, we needed to know the optimal place to put them. We spoke to Dr. Tim Setter, a professor and the chair of the section of soil and crop science. He studies the mechanisms of drought stress response in plants. While drought is not a problem in hydroponics, flooding is. The major consequence of flooding is reduced oxygen levels around the roots, thus leading to an oxidative stress response. He informed us that oxidants may leak out from the plant roots if there is high enough stress, which informed our decision to place the bacteria around the roots of the plants.

AUGUST 2, 2017

Dr. Jed Sparks

After meeting with professors to discuss the foundational advance aspects of our project, we wanted to learn more about the bigger picture - the ecological context in which oxidative stress functions. For this reason, we met with Dr. Jed Sparks of the Department of Evolution and Ecological Biology, He told us that soils and the environment in general are usually very effective at quenching exogenous ROS, but this advantage disappears in a hydroponic setting, where the roots of the plant are no longer in soil, but in an aqueous solution. This showed us that quantifying and responding to ROS may be beneficial to the health of the plants. However, optimization is necessary to prevent interference with plant metabolic and signaling pathways that involve ROS. Once again, this led to our decision to have antioxidant expression controlled by a light sensitive promoter that could be activated or deactivated on demand to maintain a certain level of ROS.

Additionally, Dr. Sparks showed us hydroponic setups that he uses to test genetically modified potatoes. These potatoes are able to scavenge nitrogen based pollutants in the atmosphere. Dr. Sparks also gave us pointers on how to grow using a hydroponic system.

Plant Biologists


We sought out research on the core of hydroponics: the plants. We spoke to plant biologists in a number of specialties to ask whether controlling oxidative stress could benefit plant growth. Their input gave us the necessary knowledge to safely alter the reactive oxygen species level in the environment without harming the plants we are trying to grow. Through these professors we not only gained effective understanding of plant physiology but also built upon the literature we had read to gain background on oxidative stress’ effects on plants. Moreover, experts who focused specifically on hydroponic systems, helped us gain a new perspective on common problems at hydroponic farms. These insights helped us develop a concept of how to design the product that would house our bacteria, and served as a preview into user interviews. We also learned about how we could test our system based on plant immunity and plant science.

Key Takeaways

  • Affordability is a key concern for hydroponic systems which typically have narrow profit margins.
  • ROS affect plant growth and differentiation - therefore a ideal balance must be struck between too much or too little oxidative stress.
  • Ideal testing would require setting up a small-scale hydroponic system in a greenhouse.
  • Our approach using a biocircuit is innovative and a different way of thinking in the realm of plant sciences.
  • The product we create cannot be too technically challenging to implement for a farmer. We should aim for the greatest simplicity and ease of use while still achieving the regulation of oxidative stress we desire.
  • Feedback we received about the design we developed by the end of our project confirmed we have achieved something that could easily be incorporated into a currently existing hydroponic system.
JUNE 12, 2017

Dr. Neil Mattson

We reached out to Dr. Neil Mattson, an expert on hydroponics and horticulture at Cornell University, to understand the hydroponics industry and intricacies. When we met with Dr. Mattson, he spoke with us at length about some of the problems hydroponic growers face, including high costs from HVAC systems and low margins due to disease and low yield. We realized that our system needed to be affordable as well as effective in increasing yields. From a technical standpoint, Dr. Mattson also helped us design our testing protocol by suggesting we use basil, a relatively easy crop to grow hydroponically that is becoming more and more widespread.

JUNE 13, 2017

Dr. Adrienne H.K. Roeder

Dr. Adrienne Roeder was in a unique position to help us as a molecular biologist studying plant growth at Cornell University. She spoke to us about the special role reactive oxygen species (ROS) play in plant growth, including their roles in cell differentiation and maturation. She was excited about our project, as her own research had shown that using intracellular expression of oxidative enzymes such as catalase could help reduce oxidative stress for plant and increase blooming in plants exposed to external high levels of ROS. She expressed that there was potential that our regulation of ROS via OxyPonics could be an innovative approach to promoting plant health.

JUNE 16, 2017

Dr. Paula Turkon

Dr. Paula Turkon has a complex hydroponic setup on the other side of Ithaca, on South Hill at Ithaca College. She thought that teaching students about sustainability through the installation and upkeep of a hydroponic system at the university would not only be a valuable learning experience in sustainability but also provide an introduction into a growing practice for more controlled food production. She explained to us how here set-up worked, and how Ithaca College’s cafeteria actively used the herbs produced hydroponically in meals for students. To monitor the hydroponic s a variety of factors are checked, including pH, water quality, and conductivity. However, oxidative stress is not taken into account, meaning OxyPonics would be a novel implementation.

When asked about struggles of hydroponic farming, Dr. Turkon mentioned that cost is one of the biggest issues and causes of failure for hydroponic farms. She said if our product could increase profit margins, it would help the hydroponic industry grow. Since OxyPonics would increase plant yield, we believe there is tangible need for our product. Additionally, OyxPonics would need to priced affordably. We addressed this issue by instead of creating an entirely new hydroponic set-up, creating components such as a rail system and dialysis rings that could be adapted and and installed into existing hydroponic set-ups.

Next, a point Dr. Turkon made clear is that personally she did not have much of a technical background and many she knew in the hydroponic industry were the same. Our team worked hard to make OxyPonics utilization intuitive and easy. The user interface additionally features data in visual form so that it is easy to grasp, and overall data analysis that one can interact with quite naturally.

JUNE 20, 2017

Dr. Miguel A. Pineros

Dr. Miguel Pineros, a professor at the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell, was enthusiastic about our project and approach. As we toured his greenhouse experiments where he had his own hydroponic set-ups, he excitedly told us that “most of where interesting science happens is at the interface of different sciences,” referring to how we were combining synthetic biology with plant sciences - two fields which typically do not interact in academia. Dr. Pineros area of expertise is in abiotic stresses and ROS production. He suggested we study root biology in hydroponics and measure the ROS production in treated vs. untreated plants for our testing. Furthermore, he gave us important feedback on containment: he suggested we use some sort of filter to contain the flow of nutrients in one direction and keep the bacteria separate from the plants. This manifested in the dialysis tubing we used to contain our bacteria. Moreover, his hydroponic set-up gave us some in-person contact with the type of system we wanted OxyPonics to be utilized for. This helped us understand firsthand what might work in such an environment, to build on the recommendations and suggestions provided through grower interviews.

JULY 6, 2017

Dr. Philip Benfey

After speaking with Dr. Pineros, we wanted more information about root systems and root biology. Dr. Roeder suggested we reach out to Dr. Benfey in Duke’s Department of Biology, who helped us learn about roots and ROS in root systems. He mentioned that our project was venturing into little-researched territory, and that the results could have important results on hydroponic crop growth. He also discussed some of the potential effects of ROS on root development. For example, reducing hydrogen peroxide levels leads to more rapid root growth in some plants, as well as distribution of superoxide and peroxide in the plant root tip and elongation cells. Dr. Benfey further mentioned some of the precautions we would need to take if we wanted proper plant development, namely if the bacteria need to be in a symbiotic relationship with the root and if it is possible to gauge the internal redox environment of the plant from the outside.

This knowledge provided support that controlling ROS has been shown through research to increase plant growth in a substantial way. OxyPonics is therefore a valuable innovation.

This interview was especially valuable in helping us figure out how to apply the knowledge we had accumulated so far into our product designs. We needed to see if our E. coli could live with plants in a hydroponic set-up, and through our interview with Dr. Maria Harrison we learned this was not the case, so we decided to contain our bacteria with dialysis tubing. When tackling the issue of being able to measure plant internal redox we referred back to our interview with Dr. Tim Setter where we learned that oxidants seep out of a plants roots, leading to our choice to put our bacteria in rings around the plants’ roots for highest ROS-sensing potential.

AUGUST 7, 2017

Dr. Lilian Hong

Dr. Lilian Hong is a post-doctoral student in Dr. Roeder’s research group at Cornell University. Dr. Hong was referred to us by Dr. Roeder when we asked to follow-up on the specific hydroponic set-ups the group had set-up when they saw the negative effects of oxidative stress on plant development. We have asked Dr. Hong for insight on how to set up a system ourselves. The set-up they used was a gel box with foam stabilizing blocks for arabidopsis as a model organism. Ultimately, we decided our system would be better suited for larger plants such as leafy greens. However, the visit was still valuable as we learned about what needs to be monitored in a hydroponic system, such as pH and nutrient levels. Dr. Hong also provided us with a sample nutrient solution mix for a hydroponic system. This information was important since the environment which both plants and E. coli are exposed to in a hydroponic system is critical to the successful operation of the Oxyponics.

AUGUST 30, 2017

Dr. Paula Turkon

Since it had been several weeks since we last spoke to Dr. Paula Turkon, we decided to follow-up equipped with our designs and models to get feedback from someone who was a potential end user. We showed her the three-dimensional CAD models and animation of the rails on which the fluorescent light sensor would be attached to detect ROS levels. She responded positively and said they could easily be installed in a hydroponic system as we intended. With us we bought a 3D printed prototype of the the crop planter that would hold the bacteria-containing dialysis tubing near a plant’s roots for ROS detection. Dr. Turkon provided us valuable feedback about making the planter cup’s rings slightly smaller and having more supports incorporated to have more stability with growing seedlings. She thought the cups was nonetheless novel and could replace current planters used in hydroponics. Thus, OyxPonics overall could be incorporated easily into existing hydroponic farms.

Additionally, Dr. Turkon welcomed us to her facility and we were able to observe first hand what hydroponic setups look like and how we could develop our own. With her advice, we decided to obtain greenhouse space to try our hydroponic system and learned about some of the variables, such as light exposure and nutrients, that would make the biggest differences in our cultivation.



Growers are at the backbone of OxyPonics since our goal is to have them incorporate our platform in their greenhouses. So we interviewed a lot of them - over 30 total. We talked, and we listened to what they had to tell us, instead of trying to steer the conversations to oxidative stress specifically. The feedback helped us authentically realize what farmers are looking for to improve their farms. This helped us understand what the problems we should be addressing are - a critical step to the design thinking process. Some of the most valuable exchanges are detailed in this section.

Key Takeaways

  • Many farmers are working towards consistent crop yields and larger, tastier plants by moving towards automation. Our OxyPonics system was developed to help growers like the ones we talked to survey their crops more efficiently.
  • Most farmers are looking to increase margins since hydroponic farming is typically much more expensive than traditional farming, and has many costly requirements for operation and upkeep. As a result, many hydroponic farms have failed within a few years of starting.
  • Hydroponic farmers currently work with the variables of light, atmospheric pressure, humidity, pest control, microbes, temperature, pH, and nutrient levels. Hydroponics requires a controlled environment.
  • Oxidative stress is a variable largely untapped by current growers. Considering the background gained from literature and researchers, we believe monitoring and maintaining certain levels of oxidative stress could increase plant growth. There is a need for a product like OxyPonics.
JUNE 10, 2017

Omega Gardens

Omega Gardens is a small hydroponics set-up focused on turning consumers into producers. Ted Marchildon, the owner, has a rotary greenhouse, which captures and spreads artificially added light to allow plant growth using only 3-4 watts. We hoped to gain insight on what makes his small scale farm work in an economic sector based on produce numbers. Omega Gardens is fleshing out an idea called Farmdominiums, which would be much like modern-day sharecropping where you buy land and pay people to grow the crops for you. They are working to increase the atmospheric pressure in their greenhouses to increase crop growth. We learned that Omega Gardens deals with bugs and humidity problems. They aim to better conserve water and make a realistic environment for plants. From them, we learned that, as we expected, farmers care a lot about the conditions that their crops are exposed to, and hence might be receptive to new technologies like ours which allow for better environmental control.

JUNE 10, 2017

Terrapin Farms

Next we spoke to Terrapin Farms, an organic hydroponic farm that uses Nutrient Film Technique systems, where they grow microbes in the plant growth water to improve the flavor of their greens. We wanted to learn about the use of microbes in farming, since ultimately that is what we would like to do. They do not face any additional legal regulation since their bacteria are sourced from the soil and not transgenic. In order to keep their bacteria alive, Terrapin uses molasses instead of traditional nutrient solutions containing salts and citric acid. The molasses not only provides a source of sugar for the bacteria, but also helps control the pH of the solution. We discovered that people do not seem to have a problem with the microbes because soil farming also has bacteria. Like most traditional hydroponic farms, Terrapin has high hopes in hydroponics' role in future food production. They reinforced the idea that hydroponics has the ability to allow farming in areas less amenable to traditional agriculture.

JUNE 12, 2017

Karma Farms

We sought out small hydroponic farms in order to learn more about their challenges and what was obstructing them from expansion. Nathaniel Shaw is the Hydroponic Production Manager at Karma Farms, which is a small farm that focuses on year-round production of greens to the local community. His farm struggles with low margins and inconsistent crop yields. We discovered that he hopes to improve crop yield with a better lighting system and more automation for measurements such as pH and temperature. He emphasized the need for consistent crop yields to keep the business going.

JUNE 15, 2017

Bolton Farms

Bolton Farms is a hydroponic greenhouse facility in Hilton, NY. We hoped to discover the causes for the high operation costs of mid-sized farms. We talked to John Bolton, who revealed that the biggest problems in hydroponics revolve around maintaining a controlled environment. Heating is an important part of control because of the cold winters in upstate NY. He mentioned to us that one of the biggest causes of hydroponics farms failing was labor costs. Expensive labor pushes some farms to move towards automation.

JUNE 16, 2017


Intergrow has been producing hydroponically grown tomatoes year round since 1998. We talked to them to learn about alternative methods of growing hydroponically. They specialize in drip irrigation to water their plants since tomatoes don't grow well in NFT or deep water systems. The drip technique involves individual pumps pouring nutrient solution onto the base of each plant and collecting the solution in a bottom tray. Intergrow grows plants in rockwool and uses drop moisture techniques. They're extremely tech-oriented in their approach, with two giant mixing tanks on top of the facility to handle nutrient mixing. With already implemented technology, Intergrow seemed not too worried about certain variables.

JUNE 16, 2017

Red Acres

Red Acres is a 6th generation family farm in Maryland that primarily grows lettuce hydroponically. We hoped to learn about the problems that plagued hydroponics in earlier days. Red Acres faced several issues with their lettuce growth: they were unaware that the lettuce would be smaller and take longer to grow during the winter. On the other spectrum, very hot days cause bolting in the lettuce, which makes it bitter. Tip burn, where the leaves of a plant decay due to calcium deficiency or rapid growth, can also happen year-round. In order to combat these issues, they use automated systems and computers to regulate their plants.

JUNE 28, 2017


Aerofarms is an aeroponics farm located in Newark, NJ. Aerofarms is one of the few farms that grows their plants by constantly misting the crops’ roots. This technique, known as aeroponics, is done with a large number of machines that allow for a tremendous density of produce. We hoped to discover any differences between aeroponic techniques and deep water hydroponic techniques. A big problem for them is employee discipline since mental rigor is required to repeat similar tasks, maintain conditions, and watch everything carefully. They also lack the equipment necessary to spot disease early on.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2017


PureSpinach is a local hydroponic farm growing pesticide-free hydroponic spinach. PureSpinach was initially a Cornell startup which led us to them. In order to combat pythium, a form of fungal infection, they use lower water temperatures in their growth tanks. We encountered and talked to Serdar, CEO of PureSpinach, who gave us insight on farming and monitoring of his products. He was especially concerned with the temperature of his system, which needs to be carefully regulated in order to keep the spinach growing. He also emphasized the necessity for large-scale testing to ensure the validity of our findings.



We contacted vendors and distributors of hydroponic supplies who gave us insight into the viability and practicality of our device. They informed us on how large-scale hydroponic farms are laid-out and operated on a daily basis. These “big picture” contacts inspired the software integration of our biological and hardware parts of our project. Their insight helped us design a sleek, streamlined and consumer friendly-product adapted for all hydroponic growing conditions.

Key Takeaways

  • Businesses put an emphasis on minimizing and reducing waste in hydroponic growing.
  • Growers would invest in better equipment if there is a large return value even with high upfront costs.
  • Data is key. Businesses and growers would like to see live data from their hydroponic tanks not only for growth monitoring, but to streamline expensive documentation and certification processes. The interface should be easy to use, interactive, and informative. We responded to this feedback by developing a user-friendly software to integrate with OxyPonics hardware and and biological components.The dashboard features real-time analytics of key environmental markers such as pH, conductivity, and of course oxidative stress levels. More information on the user interface can be found in our applied design section.
JUNE 8, 2017

Vertical Harvest

Vertical Harvest Hydroponics, based in Alaska, is a veteran-owned agricultural technology company aimed at providing innovative farming solutions around the world. Vertical Harvest recently rolled out the 4th generation of their product, a hydroponic farm in a box, geared towards northern climates. We spoke to Cameron Willingham, the founder of Vertical Harvest, who provided us with insight on the business aspect of hydroponics and the technical aspect of building a reliable, low maintenance hydroponics system. Specifically, they wanted to make their designs simple, hardy, and robust to ensure self sufficiency and versatility of their hydroponic systems.Their products and comments reminded us that our product needed a sleek and hassle-free profile. This was a big emphasis as we designed our user interface, where we incorporated graphs and visually uncluttered representations of the analytics from the hydroponic farm, but also longer in depth reports if more analysis was desired.

JUNE 9, 2017

Helical Outpost

Helical Outpost is a military hydroponics outreach based in Louisiana which trains military veterans into hydroponics farmers in 6 weeks. We talked Kohlie Frantzen, who told us that they invest substantial time into creating standardized farming training using ideas from oil drilling sites. They also have invented a greenhouse that can be easily deployed in all climates and work as the village’s or town’s hub. They operate with the big theme of local sourced food. We hoped to learn which components of hydroponic farming are crucial to a successful setup and what techniques they found worthy of monitoring and standardizing. Helical Outpost's biggest concern is ensuring that the electrical components of their green houses do not fail and waste a full cycle of crops. They informed us that a way to see live data from hydroponic tanks would be extremely valuable. We hence ensured our user interface clearly displayed real-time analytics in an easy to understand format.

JUNE 15, 2017


We talked to Joe Swartz, VP of Commercial Sales and Technical Support at AmHydro, one of the largest hydroponic equipment distributors in the US. We hoped AmHydro could evaluate how marketable of a product OxyPonics is and whether or not OxyPonics would gain traction in the hydroponic community. Joe gave us insight on both the farming and technical aspects of hydroponics. We discovered that customers decide to upgrade their systems usually when there is a large return value, even with high initial costs. Currently, Amhydro is working on a way to effectively and easily keep track of data from crops using software. This would make growers' lives easier, since they need expensive documentation and certifications in order to produce food.Our software therefore provides longer term records of hydroponic conditions over time, in addition to real-time analytics.

Outreach Innovation


In our outreach, we aimed to improve our own methods and skills for communicating complex topics like synthetic biology effectively. However, we did not stop with our mission to “learn to teach”. We gained insight about the potential hydroponics has to meet the produce demands of large cities. According to research done by Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab, urban agriculture in cities not only address questions of food security, but also encourages social development, public health, and environmental education [1]. Urban agriculture is an underutilized public resource, and therefore promoting community focus farming may sow the seeds for community self sufficiency while also engaging the youth in these living areas.

Key Takeaways

  • Urban agriculture and science education truly go hand in hand.
  • OxyPonics is an avenue for experimental farming, and when woven into community gardening, has the potential to become a pedagogical tool in the context of gardening to teach students about synthetic biology and its many possibilities.
JUNE 10, 2017

Rasheed Hislop

To run with this potential avenue of innovation, we talked to Rasheed Hislop of GreenThumb NYC, a gardening program sponsored by New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. We learned about citywide initiatives such as New York City’s “Grow to Learn” program in the schools, which uses the garden and the greenhouse as the classroom. Mr. Hislop told us this education program encompassed a variety of hands on skills, such as urban agriculture, rainwater harvesting, composting, pest control pests without using chemicals and pesticides, and mulching. The program puts a large emphasis on reducing and reusing with its partnership with the Climate Justice Organization. It gives students the opportunity to take up extensive service projects in improving the gardens while also providing teachers and parents workshops and trainings in the field of environmental education.

Mr. Hislop also mentioned that gardens with hydroponics are increasingly popular, and that they provide educators who lack green spaces and land to grow produce conventionally with a portable hydroponic gardening classroom. This take on bigger picture of environmental education gave us much to think about with respect to hydroponics and our project.

AUGUST 29, 2017

Dr. Marianne Krasny

Professor Marianne Krasny, a research extension associate who teaches teachers with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, which aims to translate research done in academic institution to the people, told us that the farms provide a unique and visceral learning environment that can't be replicated in the classroom. Unlike lectures, these situations have a “learn as you go” atmosphere. Community and school gardens in the cities therefore offer an “incredibly rich learning experience,” especially to underserved and low income urban areas. Professor Krasny gave us a unique take on this “formal, but informal” education that also has the potential to combine culture, science, and community engagement. Community farms allow students to connect with the culture capital of a neighborhood, for example with farming traditions and knowledge of elders and immigrants.

  1. Ackerman, K. (2011). The potential for urban agriculture in New York City: Growing capacity, food security, & green infrastructure. Urban Design Lab at the Earth Institute Columbia University. Retrieved from