Feaster Charter Says, ‘Lettuce Celebrate’ New Greenhouse

A lot of schools have school or community garden projects. At Mae L. Feaster Charter School, the concept of a school garden didn’t just get off the ground. It was taken to another level. Feaster recently held a ribbon-cutting for a Hydroponic Greenhouse. Hydroponics is the method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Feaster partnered with local company Go Green Agriculture, one of the largest organic-hydroponic producers in the U.S., to build the greenhouse at its middle school campus.

“We want to keep exposing our students to experiences that are more than a ‘one and done’ type of event,” said Angelica Sleiman, an associate principal at Feaster. “We want something that is continuous. What the greenhouse is going to provide is a cross-curricular experience: science, math, technology, engineering, collaboration and creativity. We wanted to make sure it is not just science, but also about giving the students an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship.”

The goal is for students to grow, market and sell organic leafy green produce, such as lettuce. The hydroponic greenhouse enables plants to grow in a controlled environment, on tables indoors, where computers control all the elements of growing such as temperature, humidity, and light levels. The process uses 80 percent less water than growing similar produce in a field.

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas praised the public-private partnership between the school and Go Green.

“We have shrinking land space and a growing population,” Casillas Salas said. “Now, you have this new technology that allows growing fruits and vegetables very efficiently. …It is really exciting to be here and see this.”

Go Green Chief Executive Officer Pierre Sleiman, Jr., who happens to be Angelica’s husband, said he hopes the greenhouse becomes a model for other schools.

“Back when I was in school, we all sat facing forward and the teacher gave one lesson and it looked nothing like it does today,” Pierre said. “This here is a way that students can interact and learn in a totally different way. I am so excited to be a part of this. I really believe this will…yield educational dividends for a long time to come.”

Pierre’s company donated more than $8,000 in materials in support of the Charter Board’s approximately $81,000 investment (materials, permits and construction fees) toward the greenhouse. A computer science major, Pierre started the business while still in college at University of California, Riverside. Pierre then raised funds from his parents, friends, and family to build a demonstration farm while obtaining a master’s in Business from UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management. He met investors who believed in his vision and invested in Go Green. Now, after a host of honors—from the White House Champions of Change award to San Diego Magazine’s “50 People to Watch” list—he wants to inspire Feaster’s students.

“I hope the students, beyond math, science and technology, will foster their entrepreneurship, creativity, and problem-solving skills in what is a real-life, hands-on setting,” Pierre said.

(Updated 12/20/2016)

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