Since her school installed a hydroponic garden, sixth grader Samantha Ennis says she’s been eating more vegetables.
Thanks to a $989 Bright Ideas grant from Palmetto Electric Cooperative in 2022, the academic life at Heritage Academy in Hilton Head is also being nourished. Hydroponic gardens, like the one at Heritage Academy, have a water-based, nutrient-rich solution circulating to a network of plants. The light source comes from LED lamps. Their futuristic farm doesn’t require soil, sunlight or rain.
“It’s better than outdoor farming,” says Ennis. “It doesn’t get as muddy; your hands don’t get as dirty, and it grows (the vegetables) faster.”
Not only is it less “messy,” Heritage Academy’s hydroponic garden takes up minimal space in the corner of the school’s front lobby. It looks more like a well-lit science project display. Only, it has collards, romaine lettuce and kale growing out of the panels.
The leafy greens provide food for the school’s guinea pigs, chickens and rabbits, which are a part of the animal science class. It is also enriching other courses at Heritage Academy, such as biology, culinary arts, math and even language arts. The grant proposal was submitted by Laurie Biggs, the 2022 SCISA Middle School Teacher of the Year. She and fellow science teacher Nicklas Bearden help the students manage and maintain the garden.
“Without the Bright Ideas grant, the hydroponic garden would not be here,” says Biggs. “It’s open to any of our students. That’s why we have it in the lobby, so students in biology or animal science or outdoor recreation can have access to it.”
Heritage Academy Head of School Amanda O’Nan says the Bright Ideas grant is making a big difference to the education of her students and the school’s budget.
“This grant helps the classroom directly and impacts the kids directly,” says O’Nan. “It’s also saving us a ton of money on feeding our animals and our culinary arts program.”
Palmetto Electric Cooperative and Palmetto Electric Trust awarded $44,133 in Bright Ideas grants to 49 deserving teachers in southern Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties in 2022. The grants help teachers provide creative and innovative learning experiences for their students. The Palmetto Electric Trust is supported by funds from Operation Round Up, a program in which members round their electric bill up to the nearest whole dollar.
Since Palmetto Electric launched the program in 2004, area teachers have received over $684,000 in grants. Applications for 2023 Grants are now available at palmetto.coop/bright-ideas. The deadline to apply is Sept. 8.