ROBBINSVILLE, NJ -- Robbinsville's Hydroponic Farm is normally bustling with almost 30 volunteers planting seeds, rotating crops, and harvesting herbs, greens and lettuce during the week. But, with the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus), no volunteers have been able to be in the farm for several months.
Hope Cahill, coordinator for the Robbinsville Hydroponic Farm, has been keeping the crops going. She also began hosting virtual tours for groups as a substitute for the typical in-person tours that educate people about the ground-breaking facility knows as the Leafy Green Machine.
"Students still need to be educated, so we decided to go virtually just like schools did," said Cahill.
The Leafy Green Machine is the first-in-the-nation Township-owned recycled shipping container that has been transformed into a hydroponic farm.
The Farm grows multiple kinds of lettuce, leafy greens and herbs such as basil and cilantro. Harvested produce is given to Robbinsville Township schools and the senior center as well as organizations such as Mercer Street Friends for meal programs.
The Farm says the Leafy Green Machine "can produce marketable lettuce equal to 1.8 acres of traditional farmland. Potentially, that is 1,000 plus mini heads of lettuce weekly - all within 320 square feet of space using minimal inputs."
In recent weeks, Cahil has led virtual tours for classes throughout the state including the Northern Burlington Middle School, Sussex County Technical School, and the Monmouth County Vocational Future Farmers of America Chapter. The tours are held via Google Meets or via Zoom.
"This is a field trip for students, virtually," said Cahill. She provides a worksheet to student, along with an answer key for teachers, to help serve as a lesson plan and "make it easy for everybody all around" to learn and follow along on the tour.
Students learn about the process to plant and harvest the crops as well as the unique nature of the hydroponic farm.
Beginning next week, volunteers, two at a time while wearing masks, will be allowed to return to the farm to tend to the crops. Most of the volunteers are adults. Children who are over the age of 12 may volunteer with a parent or adult.
Students, group or families who would like to set up a virtual tour can contact Cahill at HCahill@Robbinsville.net. Tours are usually held on Thursday and Friday as Cahill is busy harvesting the farm crops throughout the week.
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