SET IT AND FORGET IT HYDROPONICS EMPOWERS A NEW AGE OF URBAN FARMERS

Situation: Florida’s second largest industry is agriculture, yet less than ¼ of 1% of the population claims farming as their occupation despite continued population growth. Agriculture is key to Florida’s sustainability and economic competitiveness. With traditional agricultural acreage decreasing, land price increasing, and natural resource demands increasing, growers are forced to utilize efficient growing techniques. Hydroponics is one solution for growers to increase operation sustainability without compromising profitability. “Set it and Forget it Hydroponics” is an inexpensive and effective technique that familiarizes potential growers with basic hydroponics. Methods: UF/IFAS Extension, Seminole County provides introductory style “Set it and Forget it Hydroponics” classes in Sanford, FL. Workshop participants demonstrate the technical ability to make nutrient solutions, balance pH, and build hydroponic buckets. Participants leave class with a working hydroponic system growing three lettuce seedlings, and are equipped with all of the materials to grow four additional cycles of hydroponic lettuce. Succinct demonstrations that teach the science and build a system are also delivered to a variety of audiences. A fact sheet is available for participants to implement the system. Results: 111 people have participated in “Set it and Forget it Hydroponics” programming. Participants completing post- event evaluations (n= 64) showed that 100% increased knowledge of hydroponic growing and 95% intend to grow their own hydroponic lettuce. Over 92% of participants were confident in their ability to: Measure and adjust pH, make a nutrient solution, build a “Set it and Forget it” hydroponic bucket, and grow their own hydroponic lettuce. Conclusion: Empowering residents to grow hydroponically utilizing a simple technique will train many participants to grow-their-own healthy food supply, while others will be inspired to feed the masses as commercial urban hydroponic farmers. Follow up surveys will assess participants’ interest in learning advanced hydroponic systems.