Need Mulch? Jeffrey Li doesn't.

Need Mulch? Jeffrey Li doesn't.

By Gobi Hernandez

Though you may walk past it everyday on your walk up from the lower lot, many students may not know that Gilman is home to a student-run sustainable produce initiative involving the study of hydroponics. Located behind the track and next to the JV baseball field, the Hydroponics Club geodome has seen significant development under the leadership of juniors Sal Ricci and Jeffrey Li. The geodome houses several projects centered around hydroponics––the study of growing plants without the use of soil. Sal Ricci said, “The geodome is used for growing plants. It challenges the members of the club to further the technology of the dome as well as experiment with different growing techniques.” He also went on to explain that the three members of the club, Jeffrey Li , Lucas Dett (‘21), and Ricci himself have developed a much greater appreciation for real-world uses of hydroponics.

Initially, members of the class of 2018 Cameron Haire, Matthew Mu, and Merritt Wiggin built a 12x10x8 rectangular greenhouse in April of 2016 after securing grant funding from the Gilman Science Department. Just a few months later, a storm struck down the project, but the three green-thumbed seniors were insistent on keeping their investment alive. They decided to reconstruct the greenhouse, now with a larger grant and a larger mission, in the shape of a geodesic dome, the structure of which was originally designed as a cheap housing alternative in 1954 by Buckminster Fuller.

In order to grow plants without soil, the plants must be suspended in tanks of nutrient-rich water reservoirs, also called systems. When the project started in 2016, the students were able to grow small herbs such as basil and parsley as well as some small vegetables like tomatoes and squash before its destruction in November. As the geodome has grown, so has the number of systems and the diversity of the environment and its produce. Both the number of species and plants have grown extensively since then. Despite this growth, Jeffrey Li said, “Our goal is not so much to generate large volumes of plant biomass for practical usage, but to advocate for, disseminate, and otherwise promote the usage of hydroponics technology.” Part of Li’s mission also includes further technological advancements to their project. In addition to expanding the biomass of produce, the club has also succeeded in creating a vertical system that is sixteen times more effective than traditional farming when it comes to spatial awareness. This is increasingly effective and pertinent in an environment like the geodome, where space is limited. Despite this achievement, Jeffrey insists that the club will continue to try to find more practical systems in the coming years.

When Haire, Wiggin, and Mu graduated in 2018, they wanted their efforts to have a lasting impact on Gilman, and for it to be continued by the work of students like Li and Ricci. Since both Ricci and Li will be seniors next year, it is important to them that underclassmen start to get involved in the initiative so that the club can continue to thrive in the coming years. For them, the goal of hydroponics is not simply to produce plants and vegetables rapidly and efficiently, but rather to inspire new approaches to age-old problems and promote sustainable methods in the Gilman community and the greater Baltimore area as the future of our cities depend on it.