Students use love of science & nutrition to help others enjoy healthier school lunches

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A greenhouse and a school of fish are giving students at Benjamin E. Mays High an extraordinary lesson in scientific farming techniques.

Mays High School is the only Atlanta Public School with a greenhouse that uses aquaponics and hydroponics to grow year round herbs and vegetables. School  officials say the program allows student to apply cutting edge, economical and sustainable methods that yield safe and nutritious food in APS school cafeterias.

The Mays Greenhouse, operated by Ray Williams of Mirror Image Mentoring, was selected as the flagship program for the District Grown Gardens initiative and funded by Sodexo-Jackmont Corporation. The greenhouse and school garden at Mays are maintained by Ray Williams, Mays A.P. Biology, Environmental Science teacher Tamiko Gray and the student Urban Agriculture Club. The Mentoring Club and the Eco Club are also instrumental in the program’s success.

“One of the number health disparities in this community is food related  illnesses. The sooner we can get these kids interested in how their food is grown and where it comes from,” Gray told FOX 5. 

Ms. Gray uses the greenhouse as a living classroom and integrates gardening into her curriculum. One of her students, Sydney Stepney, was selected into the 2016 Governor's Honor Program. She was the only APS student to compete in the area of Agriculture Science. 

“Aquaponics uses the feces of fish-- in this case --tilapia, as a natural fertilizer. We feed the fish natural and non- genetically motified nutrients and those nutrients are what fuel the rapid growth of our vegetables and herbs. The vegetables grow much faster this way,” the 16 year old scholar told FOX 5.

“We can grow 20-25 plants in about 30 days compared to a traditional farming method that may  only generate two crops a years, so that’s allowing us to provide food to 86 school cafeterias,” the Mays High  School junior added.

The greenhouse has always been on campus but the students started working on it in August 2015. School officials are closely  monitoring the program’s progress to determine if it can be expanded to other Atlanta Public Schools. Ray Williams, who helps keep the Mays greenhouse funded through private donors, hopes other school districts will adopt the Farm to Table systems throughout Georgia.

“The Green Industry is going to be mandatory in a few years. It’s not going to be an option, so we’re getting ahead of the industry to make sure we’re training food scientists as opposed to relying only on traditional farming methods," Williams said.