Exploring Hydroponics: A Classroom Guide

hy·dro·pon·ic /ˌhīdrəˈpänik/ adjective – relating to or involving hydroponics, the process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid. “Seedlings were grown in hydroponic tanks.”

Dictionary: Definition from Oxford Languages

Your students already think the world of you.

But when you show them how to grow fruits and vegetables from seeds, you’ll become the teacher they remember forever. Access to fresh produce makes building healthy habits easier.

Outdoor school gardens and hydroponics systems are powerful teaching tools that spark a sense of wonder and curiosity in your students.

The word hydroponics comes from a combination of the Greek word hydro, which means “of water,” and the Greek word ponos, which means “work.” Hydroponics is the science of cultivating plants in a nutrient-rich solution instead of soil, where the water does the “work” of delivering nutrients to the plant’s roots. Because the roots are bathed in a nutrient solution, there is constant nourishment for the plants.

Since hydroponic gardens don’t require soil and can be kept indoors, they are perfect for schools that can’t grow plants outside in the winter. Indoor, climate-controlled hydroponic systems make food production and education possible any time of the year in any weather condition.

What do Plants Need to Survive, “Learn, Grow, Eat and Go” — Season 1, Episode 1

Above is 28 a minute long video; however, to learn about “What do Plants Need to Survive” take a moment with your students to watch minute 1:22-3:05.

Suggested questions to ask your elementary school students (from Grow. Eat. Go):

  1. Who can name all 5 senses?
  2. Which sense do you use to eat with?
  3. I’m going to call on a few of you to tell us your adjectives/describing words of your favorite foods and we’ll try to guess that food before you tell us!  Who wants to go first?
  4. Name all 6 main plant parts. Which of those parts are edible?
  5. What is the job of the leaves of the plant? What is the job of the roots of the plant?
  6. Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?
  7. Do plants really feel crowded? Even if they can’t feel crowded, what problems does being crowded cause? (Read this article from the Washington Post)

In-Classroom Activities

Create a School Garden Planting Calendar Creating a calendar to help us remember to take care of plant needs is a good idea. Which  happens most often on your garden calendar – watering, weeding or feeding?

Jr. Master Gardener Program => Grow. Eat. Go. Student Gardening Journal with Bonus Pages (including taste tests)

Download Weekly/Daily Hydroponics Educational Systems Chart

Indoor Seed Germinating Activity

Rockwool vs. Cotton Balls? – a seed germination experiment

Rockwool has to be ordered and if you don’t have any for your hydroponic systems, you can use the alternative – cotton! Cotton is a commodity crop in Tennessee and is easily attainable. Make sure to get 100% cotton for this experiment.

Grow chart

Be aware of the average germination times for plants. Make sure to read the back of seed packets and look at the dates stamped on the seed packet. Start the germination tray, bowl or plate, then set up the hydroponics system while the seeds are germinating. Below is a list of average timelines for growth of popular plants. 

Planting and Harvesting Cheat Sheet 

Plant Direct Light NeededGerminationDays to Maturation
Swiss ChardYes7-1055-65

BEFORE HARVEST:  Start growing new seeds 7-10 days before harvesting the plants in the hydroponics  system. This will allow movement of new plants from the germination tray directly to the hydroponics system without many or any days between harvest and new growth. 

Our Top Hydroponic Curriculum Picks to get Your Roots Wet!

Junior Master Gardeners Program: There are a great list of resources, free printables, activities, questions and more.

We LOVE KidsGardening.Org. The Kids Garden Community is a free online community supporting individuals, families, and organizations with the skills, tools, and connections to gardening with kids and scale transformative programs. Sign-up for FREE and ask questions, get answers and resources.

Hydroponics – Plant Science, Getting Started
Hydroponics, in its simplest form, is growing plants by supplying all necessary nutrients in the plants’ water supply rather than through the soil. Here are some basic hydroponic systems, as well as growing tips.

DIY Hydroponics – GRADE LEVEL: PRESCHOOL, K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12
The idea of growing plants in nontraditional ways like by using hydroponics techniques can really capture kids’ attention and get them excited about gardening. Prefabricated hydroponic units can be pricy, so this activity provides information about designing DIY options that may be a little more economical.

The Plant Soil Relationship – Grade Level: 3-5
Students will learn: 1) Soil helps anchor plants and provides them essential elements of water and nutrients. 2)Plants prevent soil erosion and provide organic matter.

Grow with the Flow – Grade Level: 5-9
This 10 session project-based curriculum includes simple instructions for constructing 2 different types of hydroponic units, setting plants, observing growth, and harvesting. Entomology, physics, social studies, marketing, math, nutrition and careers in horticulture, are integrated into the basic plant science focus. These projects allow for a balanced approach with group and individual activities. 

Soil vs. Water: Exploring Hydroponics – Grade Level: 6-8th, 9th – 12th
Students will:

  • Review what plants need to grow
  • Explore how traditional soil-based gardening techniques provide for plant needs
  • Explore how hydroponic growing techniques provide for plant needs
  • Conduct an experiment to observe differences between traditional and hydroponic growing techniques

Nutrition Activities

How to Eat Healthy with My Plate: Remember the food pyramid? Meet MyPlate, the official symbol of the five food groups. Learn how to make MyPlate work for you.

Go Slow Whoa Activity – Food supplies the nutrients needed to fuel your body so you can perform your best.U R What U Eat: Go, Slow, Whoa is a simple way to recognize foods that are the smartest choices.

Discovery My Plate: Discover MyPlate includes seven emergent readers featuring kindergarten-level sight words that help children build literacy skills while learning about the five food groups and MyPlate.

Taste Test Guide (cabbage, kale, swiss chard, mixed greens): This Taste Test Guide has the information, curriculum, and recipes needed for schools and cafeterias to implement Harvest of the Month taste tests.


Taste of TN Harvest of the Month Posters – Download our Free Printable and Shareable Posters for your Classroom or Cafeteria – designed with love from Tennessee students.

Reality Works Interactive Posters/Infographics

Wish-List Books & Hydroponic Systems

Learn. Grow. Eat. Go. – Grade School

Through a linear set of hands-on lessons, your students will better understand plants and how they provide for people’s needs. The 10-week (2 lessons/week) unit of study will step your class through the process of establishing a thriving garden that is easy to create and maintain. The curriculum features opportunities for fresh vegetable tasting/evaluation, simple recipe demos, and physical activities that research shows can improve on-task behavior and academic performance. (226 pp.)

4-H Club High School – High School

Youth will learn how to grow plants without soil, how the hydroponics industry has developed, the most common types of soilless growing systems, and advanced plant nutrition.  Included also are activities related to conservation and limited resources and comparing and contrasting soil-based and soilless growing systems.  A purchase of the Leader Guide comes with a download of the PowerPoint training slides that may be used as part of instruction.

Looking for Hydroponic Systems?Here is a review from SproutRite

Maybe you are you looking for something more specific that we can add to this growing resource list? Please let us know! Contact Us. #NWTNFarmtoSchool

Information gathered By Caroline Ideus & Samantha Goyret
Local Food Network Team Members

Local Internships Awarded to Bethel Students

The Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (NWTNLFN) is a nonprofit based out of Martin, TN who envisions a sustainable regional food system that utilizes locally grown and produced foods to promote healthy individuals, equitable communities and thriving local economies. Three Bethel University Students were awarded paid internship positions with the NWTNLFN to advance the organization’s mission to serve as a catalyst for a thriving and equitable local food system that is accessible to ALL.

“We are very excited to be able to hire three paid internships who will help advance our mission and programming throughout the Northwest Tennessee Region,” stated Samantha Goyret, LFN Executive Director. “With support from a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant and the TN Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant they helped fund our organization to make these internships possible.”

Zoe Hogan is serving as a Marketing and Communications Intern to support graphic design and marketing materials. Zoe Hogan originally grew up in Sharon and started going to Bethel  University in McKenzie, TN to study for a Bachelors in Art. She enjoys graphic and digital design.  She has experience in advertising as she has inherited her mother’s sign, license plate, decal, sticker and t-shirt design business. Her passion for marketing and art lead her to apply for this internship.

Madelyn Miller is serving as a Local Food Procurement Intern who will support the development of the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Guide Magazine and seek to connect farmers with hunger relief organizations. Madelyn Miller is a junior at Bethel University in McKenzie, TN where she will graduate in the Spring of 2024 with her Bachelor’s degree in Human Services. She is a soprano in the Renaissance choir and in the Resound small-group choir. In her free time, she enjoys singing, being crafty, and spending time with her family and pets. After college, she plans on becoming a Children’s Welfare Social Worker.

Josaeliyn Taylor is serving as a Marketing and Communications Intern to create engaging social media posts, e-newsletters and Farm to Early Childcare Parent newsletters. Josaeliyn Taylor is from Jackson, TN attending Bethel University in McKenzie, TN. She is studying Human Services and sings in the Renaissance Choir. She loves taking photos, making TikToks and enjoying time with her friends. She is very outgoing and is looking forward to her new journey with the NWTN Local Food Network.

“These internship opportunities align with Bethel University’s mission to offer an accessible education, whether in person or through technology mediated methods, to the diverse learning community,” stated Timothy Lindsey, Professor of Human Services at Bethel University. “These remote internships are allowing our students to gain real-world experiences while helping to meet the food needs of our communities throughout the region from our campus. We appreciate the LFN’s efforts to strengthen our ties, health, and communities.”

To learn more about the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network’s programming visit nwtnlfn.org.

Indigenous Contributions to the World Around Us

On Monday, February 20th at 6pm, the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network is hosting a presentation by Kimberly Greene Bugg titled “Indigenous Contributions to the World Around Us” as part of the month-long 2023 Civil Rights Conference theme,“Who Will Stand in the Gap? – A Clarion Call for Justice Seekers,” hosted by The University of Tennessee at Martin.

“Indigenous Contributions to the World Around Us” will be presented by Kimberly Greene Bugg a member of the Oneida Nation from the Six Nations Reserve located in Ontario, Canada. She currently resides in Lake County, TN. The presentation and discussion with the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network discusses the importance of learning about indigenous people that inhabited the lands before the settlers arrived and how people can continue to learn and support indigenous people today.

“The Local Food Network is thrilled to continue our participation in this year’s Civil Rights Conference and shed light on indigenous voices,” stated Caroline Ideus, Outreach Director of the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network. “We hope the discussion will bring awareness to indigenous contributions to our environment and lives.”

Kimberly Greene Bugg is an ambassador of the Native American community, children’s book author, artist of traditional dolls and beadwork, and organizer of the Northwest Tennessee Native American Educational Powwow at Discovery Park of America in Union City from October 27th-29th. In 1997, she was titled with the “Memphis Powwow Princess” which sparked her lifelong passion to educate the public about indigenous culture and history.The discussion is hosted by the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network, a nonprofit based out of Martin, TN serving as a catalyst for a thriving and equitable local food system that is accessible to ALL in Northwest Tennessee. Their vision is to create a sustainable regional food system that utilizes locally grown and produced foods to promote healthy individuals, equitable communities and thriving local economies.

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~ Caroline Ideus
Outreach Director, Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network

Taste of Tennessee Harvest of the Month Poster Winners Announced

The Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (LFN) has been developing the Taste of Tennessee Harvest of the Month (HOTM) poster contest since 2019. In 2022, during National Farm to School Month in October, the LFN partnered with Weakley County Schools and Trenton Special School District to conduct this annual poster contest. The Harvest of the Month program’s goal is to encourage healthy food choices by increasing Northwest Tennessee residents’ exposure to seasonal foods, agriculture and nutrition education, while supporting local farmers and building excitement about locally made meals.


This project provides awareness of the locally grown foods, artistic expression, and the important connection with our local food system,” commented Samantha Goyret, Executive Director of the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network. “The entries showed how students, when given a chance, have an incredible ability to showcase their creative skills and agricultural knowledge.

9 student winners and 9 honorable mentions were selected from a total of 57 entries from Weakley County School & Trenton Special School Districts. The winning student artwork will be pooled with all Harvest of the Month winners since 2019 to then be featured in a 12-month poster series that will be offered to all school cafeteria programs across the State of Tennessee through generous support from the Tennessee Department of Education. The finalists will be announced at a later date.

Each contestant had to write one to two sentences about their featured local product. “I picked watermelon because it’s my favorite fruit!,” wrote Scarlett Lovell, Greenfield School. “It’s juicy & sweet. I like to eat watermelon in the summer with my dad!

I love apples,” wrote Helena Bennett, Kindergartener at Sharon School. “My apple is in a fruit basket, and I love polka-dots. It’s in my imagination.”

“I love honey,” wrote Haven Love, 5th grade, Trenton Rosenwald Middle School. “It is a healthy food, and I like to cook with it. I think it is neat how bees make it.”

Weakley County Schools is very fortunate to have such great supporters of both Agriculture and the arts in our area,” said Randy Frazier, Director of Weakley County Schools. “Our rich farming heritage deserves to be celebrated and we are grateful to the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network for highlighting our students’ talent and producing such a practical tool for us.”  

Students received local food and produce prizes from the following farms: Blackberry Pond Farm out of Martin, TN, Dixie Chile Ranch out of Kenton, TN, Purrrfectly Homemade out of Troy, TN and Barefoot Gardens out of Martin, TN.

Image Above: Weakley County School Students, (top left to right): Helena Bennett – Sharon School, Annabelle Lovell – Greenfield School, Paola Rodrigues – Dresden Elementary School,

(bottom left to right): Maria Ivansic – Martin Elementary School, Elissa Puckett – Dresden Elementary School, Wyatt Craig – Dresden Middle School, Avery Riley – Sharon School

Image Above : Trenton Special School District Students from Trenton Rosenwald Middle School (left to right): Catelyn Ambrose – Watercolor Asparagus and Black/Blueberries, Colored Pencil Choloe Francis – Black/Blueberries, Nickolaus Cliff – Colored pencil Strawberries, Haven Love – Pencil and Marker Honey

The following student artists won the Harvest of the Month poster contest:

~ Honey – Haven Love – 5th grade, Trenton Rosenwald Middle School
~Asparagus – Wyatt Craig – 6th grade, Dresden Middle School
~Strawberries – Avery Riley – 3rd, Sharon Elementary 
~Strawberries – Nickolaus Cliff, 5th grade, Trenton Rosenwald Middle School
~Blue/Blackberries – Chloe Francis – 8th grade, Trenton Rosenwald Middle School
~Asparagus, Blue/Black Berries – Catelyn Ambrose – 8th grade, Trenton Rosenwald Middle School
~Tomatoes – Paola Rodriguez – K, Dresden Elementary School
~Apples – Helena Bennett – K, Sharon School
~Pumpkins – Elissa Puckett – 1st grade grade, Dresden Elementary School 
~Leafy Greens – Annabelle Lovell – 8th grade, Greenfield Elementary School
~Watermelon – Maria Ivansic – 5th grade, Martin Elementary School

The following students received Harvest of the Month honorable mentions:

~Honey – Sofia Goyret – 3rd grade, Sharon School
~Blue and Blackberries – Jo Winstead, 7th grade, Dresden Middle School
~Blue and Blackberries – Emma Munoz, 7th grade, Martin Middle School
~Watermelon – Scarlot Lovell – 3rd grade, Greenfield Elementary School
~Watermelon – Blaze Bennett – 5th grade, Sharon School
~Apples: Persi Foster – 2nd grade, Gleason Elementary
~Pumpkins: Helena Bennett – K, Sharon School

The Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network’s mission is to catalyze actions that are increasing access to locally grown and produced foods.  

This program’s material is based upon work that is supported by the Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tennessee Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant in collaboration with the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network and Farm to School program partners.

For more information about the Harvest of the Month program, local food recipes, and how to download current Harvest of the Month posters, visit the Local Food Network’s website at: nwtnlfn.org/taste-of-tennessee.

Avian Flu and Protecting Your Backyard Flock, Recorded Video, Resources and Q&A

On January 19th, 2023, the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network hosted Dr. Tom Tabler, Poultry Specialist with the UT Extension and UT AgResearch, who gave a presentation explaining the Avian Flu that is impacting our region, and how people can reduce the spread by protecting their backyard flock through biosecurity measures.

The Virtual Meet-up was organized by the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based out of Martin, TN serving as a catalyst for a thriving and equitable local food system that is accessible to ALL. This was a FREE event.

Watch the Recorded Presentation with the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network and Dr. Tom Tabler

Click on the video above to learn about how you can protect your backyard flocks from the Avian Bird Flu.


Dr. Tom Tabler’s Presentation: all you need to know about the Avian Flu, how to protect your birds, and what to do if your birds become infected.

Biosecurity Measures to Fight Avian Influenza: two main pathways, two sets of biosecurity measures, USDA 6 biosecurity steps to lessen disease risks, USDA’s five-step plan to deal with avian influenza cases

Avian Flu Threatens Tennessee Flocks: biosecurity disease signs and recommendations.

Biosecurity Checklist for Combatting the Avian Flu: The USDA has developed a valuable checklist of biosecurity measures that, when followed, can help prevent HPAI from entering your poultry operation.

Avian Influenza Frequently Asked Questions

Egg Sales in Tennessee: requirements and suggested practices for egg producers in Tennessee

For additional information on avian influenza and biosecurity, you may visit the USDA’s Defend the Flock website or animalscience.tennessee.edu/avian-influenza.

Tom Philpott, former food and ag reporter at Mother Jones and now a research associate at the Center for a Livable Future was part of a podcast yesterday on avian flu and he did a great job. A link to the podcast is below.

Sickened chickens – Today, Explained | Podcast on Spotify


If something in your flock seems suspicious or unusual or you see something that is just not right for your flock, get help immediately. If you’re a commercial producer, contact your service tech and ask that they come take a look. Even if your service tech was there yesterday, ask that they come back and make sure everything is okay. Waiting could have disastrous results. If you’re a backyard flock owner, contact:

  • Your local county Extension agent
  • Your local veterinarian
  • Tennessee State University Extension poultry specialist (615) 963-5823
  • Dr. Tom Tabler, University of Tennessee Extension poultry specialist (479) 879-3937, gtabler@utk.edu
  • Tennessee State Veterinarian’s office (615) 837-5120
  • West TN Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, Director Dr. Clint Ary, (731) 881-1071, cary1@vols.utk.edu
  • C. E. Kord Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory, (615) 837-5125

Making an Easy Foot Bath

A footbath is a handy tool to help you practice backyard biosecurity. You can easily make one yourself (source: UT Institute of Agriculture). You will need:

  • A low plastic pan or bin, wide enough to fit an adult’s foot and shallow enough to step into easily.
  • A plastic doormat (the “fake grass” mats work well).
  • A disinfectant that works well for most situations, as described above.
  • Water.

Mix the disinfectant with water according to the label instructions. Put the doormat in the plastic pan. Add mixed disinfectant so that the bottom of the mat is wet. Ask visitors to walk through the foot bath, wiping their feet on the mat. The mat scrubs their shoes a bit as they wipe them and applies the disinfectant. When the liquid starts to get dirty, empty it and put in new disinfectant.  

Questions Asked during the Meet-UP

What are the signs of the Avian Influenza in birds?
Coughing/sneezing, nasal discharge/swollen sinuses, watery eyes, blue discoloration to face, comb or wattles, dramatic drop in water consumption, loss of appetite, ruffled feathers, huddling, drop or cessation in egg productions, diarrhea, birds that are more quiet than normal, birds that isolate themselves from the flock, hemmorrhages on the legs below the feather line, high number of deaths in a short time period.

How long does the virus live?
The virus can live in standing water up to 8 weeks in the winter and 4-6 weeks in the summer. If birds have been exposed, the incubation time is about 2-3 days, but no more than 5-6 days before birds show signs of illness.

What if my flock gets avian flu, and I report it – how do I clean the facility?
If it’s a known influenza case, the USDA has proceedure testing protocols. That particular site will be quarantined. They will test surrounding sites in the area. If a farm was diagnosed with it, but the time the testing, cleaning and disinfecting has happened, it would take several months to get a new flock up and running. The government pretty much covers all the cost in terms of testing and cleaning.

Is the state of TN restricting purchase or import of chickens from hatcheries within or outside of the state?
No, as long as the meat and eggs are cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees farienheight, the chicken meat is safe for human consumption.

I like to eat eggs sunny side up – the yolk is still raw – would that be safe to eat?
It could be risky. If you believe your eggs might have come from an infected bird, it’s best to have your yolks cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees fahrenheit. Avian Bird influenza viruses do not often infect humans. The risk of contracting AI from birds is very low.

Where do you get NPIP Certified Birds?
The Coops, Farm Supply Stores know the hatcheries are participating in the program. You can always ask a manager if the birds are NPIP certified.

What are “good measures” to control a rodent population with your home flocks?
Keeping the coops clean, and closed off to outside animals – both rodents and wild birds – is important. Keep out rats or mice. It’s best to rotate different kinds of products that use different active ingredients every 3-4 months to help control rodent populations. After awhile, rodents can become accustomed to the substances over time, causing the treatments to be less effective.

How can farmers market vendors share information about food safety and their eggs that they sell (do they need to package them differently or have a sign at their booth?
There is a publication from UT (PB1898)”Egg Sales in Tennessee” document – this document gives backyard poultry farmers the federal rules and regulations you have to abide by. Safe handling instructions need to be noted on the carton (i.e. “Keep refrigerated”)

Should you wear a mask inside the coop?
There is no need to wear a mask in the coop as the Avian Bird influenza viruses do not often infect humans in the United States. The risk of contracting AI from birds is very low. However, it is important to use foot baths (water with bleach); or use site-only footwear; or site-provided boot covers (plastic disposable bags). Use common sense with foot baths and change the water as needed to maintain effectiveness. Always wash your hands after handling chickens or turkeys.

For more information about the Avian Bird Influenza, please look at our resources list above provided by Dr. Tom Tabler.

~ Caroline Ideus & Samantha Goyret
Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network Team