LOWVILLE — While many gardeners are hanging up their tools for the winter season, awaiting a time when they can take them out again and get to work outdoors, Jefferson Community College is gearing up to offer an agricultural program to high school students in Jefferson and Lewis counties.

The college’s Hydroponics, Nutrition & Advocacy Youth Program will be held from noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays, Jan. 15 to Feb. 26, at JCC’s Lewis County Education Center at 7395 East Road in Lowville.

The free six-week workshop is open to students in grades 9 through 12 and will be taught by Julian R. Mangano, a market gardener, local food systems advocate and technical specialist for the education center.

“In our current era, we’re seeing an aging farmer population where the average age of a farmer is 58 years old — four to seven years away from retirement age,” Mr. Mangano said. “In order to maintain the integrity of our food systems, it’s necessary that we start to entice young folks to consider agriculture as a career option, and there’s got to be introduction of the newer ways of engaging in agriculture so that there’s maybe stereotypes broken about how food is grown and what the nature of overall work is to be able to produce food.”

The hands-on HNA Youth Program will teach students how to grow plants using hydroponics. Topics of the program include controlled environment agriculture, hydroponics, growing conditions, nutrition and health, and advocacy for access to quality food. The program will include both lecture and experiential learning.

Apart from talking about systems of production related to controlled environment agriculture, the program will also focus on nutrition and how a person can have a well-balanced diet by using different parts of a plant and decrease waste in the consumption process.

The program will also hit on food justice and food justice advocacy, with students being introduced to issues around food deserts.

“Though it’s not a traditional thought that a rural area that has farms can be a food desert, there are food deserts up here,” Mr. Mangano said. “So just giving students that awareness and what they might be able to do in terms of advocacy efforts to try to get more nutritious, healthy food available for them and the people in their communities, that’s something that we’re hitting on in the program as well.”

The kits students will receive include a Kratky hydroponic system utilizing a container — a glass jar — filled with water. The students will fill their jars with water and nutrients, and the roots of the plants will grow and absorb them. Kits will also include a soil-based grow in a jar, as well as a hydroponics-based microgreens grow that happens inside of a meal-prep food container.

The program will take place at the center in a “Freight Farm” from a company in Massachusetts that retrofits shipping containers with vertical hydroponic systems.

The HNA Youth Program is made possible by the Northern Border Regional Commission through a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant.

“When you look at global trends, controlled environment agriculture is increasing in popularity not just because it utilizes novel agricultural technologies, but because of the changing elements of the climate that we’re dealing with,” Mr. Mangano said. “So being able to grow in an environment where there’s more control of the conditions, it allows for more nutrient-dense, large plants to flourish ... this gives the farmer the opportunity to take control of their production.”

Students must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or documentation of exemption to take part in the program. The deadline to register is Jan. 7. For more information and to register, visit www.sunyjefferson.edu or call the JCC Workforce Development Office at 315-786-2233.

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