Union City middle school grows fresh produce for the community

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A Union City middle school teaches students about the importance of growing fresh produce, while also giving back to the community.

Student volunteers spend time in Emerson Middle School’s basement working on and tending to the school’s hydroponics garden lab.

“The hydroponics lab is a soilless lab. Everything is run by water and we start our plants from seeds,” says teacher Laura Kushnir.

The students do all of the planting, growing and harvesting. 

News 12 New Jersey caught up with 14-year-old Erika Gonzalez, whose job it is to test the pH levels of the water and log the results.

“I think it's very interesting to know how they grow in different ways, other than in soil.  Other alternatives so you can do it at home if don’t have a large space,” she says.

Many of the students who live in urban Union City come from homes without a large amount of space or property.

“They had no idea how to grow anything or how to garden or what fresh food looks like in its raw state after actually growing on a vine or growing in a crop form,” says Principal Michael Cirone.

About 50 pounds of produce are grown in the lab every month. Plants grown in the lab include tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants and fresh herbs like basil. The produce is then given out to the community and to local food pantries.

“It makes me feel like I’m actually helping others that are in need,” Gonzalez says.

The lab is paid for through grants and the district budget. There are plans to add similar programs to three other Union City schools.

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