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PATCH brings home-grown produce to Roane County

Senior Trevor Ward harvests plants and takes care of them in the PATCH 21 after-school program. (Photo Provided)

SPENCER — Nutritious, home-grown produce is available to students and residents of Roane County thanks to students who completely run a hydroponics program through PATCH 21, an after-school program.

“The primary goal of the PATCH 21st Century Community Learning Centers is to provide a safe place for ‘at-risk’ youth and their families to grow physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually,” according to their Facebook page.

The program services Roane, Jackson and Mason counties. It involves several after school activities and programs and even employs students to give them work experience.

PATCH originated in the 1990s to provide a planned approach to community health. According to David McCutcheon, executive director, PATCH is trying to get back to those initiatives.

“Here in the last four or five years, (we) starting looking at issues that helped with academic attainment and health is a big one,” McCutcheon said. “(We) started looking around the community and saw that the health in the area is suffering.”

Chris Silket, Mikalah Clarkson, Soyre Lowe and Cael McCutcheon work together in the hydroponics program through PATCH 21 in Spencer. (Photo Provided)

McCutcheon said they wanted to start teaching healthy lifestyles to kids so they can start living healthily at a young age; it’s hoped kids will encourage the adults around them to follow suit and develop healthier habits.

By using micrograins, the finished product holds up to 10 more nutrients, McCutcheon said. Lettuce, it was decided, would be their product.

“(We) started figuring out how we could grow lettuce, how to increase our food and how to involve kids and grow inside,” he said.

The program grows produce hydroponically, without the use of soil, in water.

“It’s a water-based growing of plants with added nutrients. Dirt soil health is a big issue and (we) avoid a lot of the problems with typical gardening,” McCutcheon said. “(We’re) able to do it indoors efficiently and effectively and can do it year round.”

A hydroponics program through PATCH 21, an after-school program, provides high quality lettuce and all produce goes to the day-care program. (Photo Provided)

Students plant, harvest and clean the produce. They track the business side of it and analyze data for yield, productivity and ph levels, temperature and other readings for the plants.

Senior Parker Lambert oversees the business aspect. “I watch over everyone and do the business aspect of it all. It’s something different, it’s not normally compared to typical after-school programs,” Lambert said. “It’s really hands on. We weren’t necessarily strangers, but we all became really close together. It helps bring us together a little more.”

Lambert wants to become a business major and believes this experience will help in his future.

All the harvesting and monitoring is done by senior Trevor Ward.

“I do all of our hydroponics harvesting and monitoring our system, check to see what needs to be harvested, planted, to help them thrive and do better,” Ward said.

Ward said they are incorporating the program with their day care facility.

“We just want to have a healthier Roane County. Providing that with our students, we’re hoping it escalates to our adults,” Ward said.

Ward also says this experience is equipping him with the skills to be a successful adult. “It gives me a good understanding of how a business works. It relies on us, it makes us have good multitasking and gives us a good opportunity to show how different things work and the science behind it.”

Chris Silket, junior, is inspired to build his own hydroponics system in his home. He takes care of the data and analyzes what goes in and what comes out.

“I believe it’s helping because I’m learning financing as well. I help invoice every so often so I’m learning the price of things as well,” Silket said. “I know how to grow and will end up knowing how to eat healthy. This has helped me get toward being healthier.”

Candice Black can be reached at cblack@newsandsentinel.com.

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