Comparison of countertop hydroponic systems for small-scale food production

Mackenzie Reagan, Lillilan Smith, Nina Armstrong

The Gregory School, Tucson, Arizona

Over 17 million Americans live in food deserts: areas lacking access to “fresh, healthy and affordable foods”.  In Pima County, 16% of the population is food insecure.  Our project aims to address food deserts through the design of a self-sustaining countertop hydroponic system that allows access to fresh food at a low cost with minimal maintenance. We designed three hydroponic systems using fish tanks of the same dimensions: 1) a “media in” tank, 2) a “media-flow through” tank and 3) a “media over” tank. We grew Lemon Balm, Peppermint and Romaine Lettuce in hydroponic media in each tank design. We measured water pH, temperature and heights of the plants associated in each tank every week. We also tracked nutrients, fish health and collected media samples to quantify the development of biofilms.  The greatest challenge in this study has been keeping the fish healthy and alive. Of the 3 plants tested, romaine lettuce has performed best and grew 8.9 cm on average. While there have been numerous unforeseen challenges, our lettuce growth data suggest that with further study and development, we may be able to create a low cost hydroponic system that can provide alternative choices to people living in food deserts.

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