Food security on a global and local level is becoming increasingly discussed. The ability to meet food security and nutrition goals require food to be available, accessible, and in sufficient quantity and quality to meet the demand of an ever-growing population and is a critical issue (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015). Also, a recent study shows poverty is increasing substantially in urban areas, with a majority (>56%) of impoverished now living in urban areas (Eigenbrod and Gruda, 2015). Urban agriculture can contribute to food security in these impoverished areas by improving availability and access to nutritionally dense foods (Badami and Ramankutty, 2015; Orsini et al., 2013). In addition to traditional food production methods in urban areas, food crops produced hydroponically in controlled environments can result in food that is accessible and of high quality (Premanandh, 2011).
The combined retail and wholesale value of food produced in a protected culture, including greenhouses using hydroponic systems, has increased by $243 million (44%) between 2009 and 2014 (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2009, 2015). Hydroponic and controlled-environment food crop production provides opportunities to improve the quality and yield of the crop by manipulating environmental conditions and cultural practices (Krauss et al., 2006; McAvoy et al., 1989; Wu et al., 2004). In addition to predictable yields, quality produce, and value-added food crop production, hydroponic production systems can lead to increased food security. For example, hydroponic and controlled environment agriculture can improve year-round availability of and increase proximity to safe and nutritious produce (Premanandh, 2011). Depending on their design, hydroponic systems may incur significant capital investments; however, simplified hydroponic systems offer low-cost solutions that can increase the accessibility to this production method and the resulting produce (Izquierdo, 2007).
To support and manage this increase in hydroponic crop production, undergraduate greenhouse curricula should include education and training techniques in hydroponic production of fruit and vegetable crops. Shoulders et al. (2016) surveyed 110 four-year colleges and universities across the United States to determine the prevalence of hydroponic and greenhouse food crop production courses. They reported only 4 courses of the 84 courses related to greenhouse production focused on greenhouse food crop production. There is clearly a need for more curricula to include greenhouse food crop production.
Craver and Williams (2015) suggest hydroponic production modules could be developed and incorporated into existing greenhouse or fruit and vegetable production courses to further increase student knowledge and awareness of greenhouse food crop production practices. Greenhouse crop production courses primarily focus on the technical aspects of producing food crops in controlled environments. We believe that coupling the technical aspects of hydroponic crop production with engaging learning strategies such as hands-on laboratory exercises and service-learning projects may create a richer learning experience for students.
Service-learning is a proven pedagogical method that connects classroom learning with community service and increases engagement and promotes deeper learning among students (Grossman et al., 2013; Waliczek and Zajicek, 2010). Garner (2011) reports that with this deeper understanding of content, students can more readily transfer their knowledge to the community via the service project. In addition to connecting curriculum content to a service project, service-learning requires student reflection. This combination of action and reflection empowers students by making them responsible to participate in a real world context, while providing them the skills and support to be effective (Rosenberg, 2000).
The curricular need for a hydroponic food production course at the Iowa State University created an opportunity to develop a new course with an extensive laboratory component to produce food crops hydroponically and to integrate an associated service-learning project. Our objective was to create a course that directly connected course content (the technical aspects of hydroponic crop production) to a service project that increased student understanding and awareness of food security issues in their community and globally.
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