Science teacher Mrs. Laura Swessel has wanted a hydroponics unit for her students and STEM clubs and camps for several years, but the price of the units was too expensive. When she heard of Scott Massey, a recent Purdue University graduate and new business owner, she found a way to meet that need while also having him speak about the entrepreneur side of STEM.
Massey and a fellow engineering students co-founded Heliponix their senior year of college in order to produce the patented GroPod, a computerized hydroponic food unit that uses the company’s patented seed pods (think Keurig pods) to grow plants indoors. One of the goals of the GroPod is to help alleviate fresh food deserts around the world, since the units can easily feed a family with only electricity, wifi, and water – and the subscription seed pods.
Mrs. Swessel said she was impressed with the company’s mission, especially from someone recently out of college.
“He thinks of it as a cool technology but also sees the big picture,” she said.
The Science Department purchased a unit, and Mrs. Swessel will use the GroPod to teach her Earth/Space students and her STEM club students about alternative agriculture practices as well as entrepreneurship and other elements of STEM. The unit’s wifi will enable her to check on the plants when she’s not in the building over the summer or on weekends during the school year. If an alarm goes off that the unit needs water, for example, she could come in and resolve the problem.
The seed pods are $1 each, and her first order contains cilantro, red Russian kale, and three types of lettuce. The plants will be ready for their first harvest around the beginning of the school year, so Mrs. Swessel plans to give the first batch to the cafeteria to serve for lunch. The plants will live about 180 days before they need to be removed because their root systems would begin to clog the system.
In the future, Mrs. Swessel may sell the produce to staff and faculty members in order to fund the cost of the liquid fertilizer, which costs about $12 a year, and future seed pod purchases. She also sees the potential for recreating the seed pods in the school’s 3D printer using biodegradable material.
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