The ChangeMakers Project is a 3 year, $2-million continuation grant from the National Science Foundation that engages Massachusetts urban public school students in the science and enterprise of hydroponic gardening and the development of youth purpose. The project is led by Professors G. Michael Barnett, Belle Liang, and David Blustein, in partnership with College Bound, a program within the Lynch School’s Urban Outreach Initiatives. The Changemakers Program involves adolescents from populations that are often underrepresented in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. While the program’s goal is to teach students the interdisciplinary science of hydroponics and managing an urban hydroponic farm, it utilizes a social justice framework. Specifically, the program increases adolescents’ skills in science while also constructing technology that helps address the issues surrounding food insecurity and food justice. As the students are exposed to the science curriculum, they also attend workshops focusing on purpose development.
Thus far, over 840 public middle and high school students in Boston, Springfield, and Waltham schools have learned how to grow ethnically familiar produce without soil, and to sell those products at local farmers’ markets, with the guidance of trained, near-peer mentors. Mentoring focuses not just on understanding the science and technology of soil-less farming but on achieving long-term academic and career success.