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SAN BENITO, RGV – To coincide with National Nutrition Month, IDEA Public Schools has introduced what it is called the Leafy Green Machine at its San Benito campus.

IDEA leaders say LGM is an efficient and environmentally conscious way to grow food because of its minimal electricity and water requirements. IDEA San Benito is just one of ten K-12 schools in the U.S. with the LGM on campus and became the second school in the State of Texas to obtain the LGM after IDEA Eastside in San Antonio in 2018.

The Leafy Green Machine has been developed by Freight Farms, a leader in the agriculture technology industry and the first to introduce container farming. A 40’ x 8’ x 9.5’ modified freight shipping container, LGM incorporates hydroponic farming to grow and harvest food for the campus. LGM will serve as a pilot program. 

Using just ten gallons of water per day and incorporating a closed loop hydroponic system that delivers nutrient rich water directly to the plants’ roots, LGM is capable of producing 500 heads of lettuce, 40-50 lbs. of hearty greens, and 35-45 pounds of herbs in one week.  That is 90 percent less water than traditional farming methods.

Jordon Roney, campus farmer at IDEA San Benito, says the pilot program is part of an effort to support IDEA’s Healthy Kids Here initiative. Roney believes LGM will provide for an engaging space for IDEA students to learn about the future of growing food at the intersection of agriculture, conservation and technology. He pointed out that the technology itself will engage students in combination with classes such as biology, chemistry, math and our Junior Master Gardeners (JMG) curriculum. All harvested items, he said, will be used to supply the campus’ food nutrition program throughout the year.

“IDEA San Benito is excited to become the first campus in South Texas to implement this new and efficient farming method,” says Jordan Roney, campus farmer at IDEA San Benito. “Not only will our students benefit from learning about the technology behind hydroponic farming, but we will also have the ability to support our campus food program while providing students with an abundance of healthy produce year-round.” 

Hernan Colmenero, CNP Farm Manager at IDEA’s Valley headquarters, said LGM is an efficient and environmentally conscious way to grow food because of its minimal electricity and water requirements. With little agricultural training, anyone can quickly learn to operate the unit and our students can reap the benefits, Colemenero said.

The internal temperature, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, and all nutrient needs within the contained are controlled through a software application that can be accessed by any mobile device. This allows the greens, such as a variety of lettuce and herbs, to provide hefty harvests year-round, no matter the outside weather conditions.  On average, the LGB has a monthly operational cost of $1975/month.

An IDEA news release stated:


The LGM will provide an engaging space for IDEA Students to learn about the future of growing food sustainably. They will be able to touch and taste leafy greens packed with nutrients, building connections with healthy eating choices as well as participate with the market-scale growth of crops, witnessing how technology plays a role in agriculture. The technology itself will engage students, but combined with classes such as biology, chemistry, math or our Junior Master Gardeners (JMG) curriculum, it will support IDEA’s mission to prepare students for college and citizenship.  


IDEA students will have access to leafy greens, harvested at the peak of ripeness with the highest potential for nutritional content.

  • Vertical Crop Columns – 4,500 growing sites throughout 256 lightweight crop columns.
  • The ability to grow 500 head of lettuce, 40-50 lbs. of hearty greens, and 35-45 pounds of herbs in one week.
  • Automation System – software that allows farmers to automate functions using real-time data from sensors and in-farm cameras.
  • LED Array – high efficiency LED lights in the seedling and mature growth areas provide crops with only the optimal wavelengths of light required for photosynthesis
  • Irrigation System – Uses approximately 10 gallons of water per day, 90% less water than traditional farming methods, in a closed loop hydroponic system that delivers nutrient rich water directly to the plants’ roots
  • Controlled Environment – Uses approximately 80 kWh per day and is equipped with environmental sensors that monitor water, climate, and lighting conditions within the farm.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on National Nutrition Month. Part Two will be posted on March 6, 2019.

Donation campaign launched

Meanwhile, IDEA Public Schools is this week celebrating its 19th Birthday. On March 3, 2000, teachers Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Game started IDEA Public Schools. Over time, it has become a Pre-K-12, high-achieving public charter school system for nearly 45,000 students, and 5,600 employees across 79 schools in five regions and two states.

To commemorate its birthday this year, IDEA has launched a donation campaign that it will share with its social media followers, family, friends, parents, supporters and more. 

“We are asking that people donate $1.90, $19, $190, or $1,900 to support scholarships for students and expansion at IDEA,” Torkelson said. “From March 3- 9 we’ll share posts, student testimonials, happy birthday videos, and graphics to help build awareness around the campaign and solicit donations.”

Torkelson said IDEA supporters can spread the word by emailing family and friends or sharing a post on social media. He said he and Gama would love supporters to contribute $1.90, $19.00, $190, or $1,900.

Science & Engineering

In other IDEA news, IDEA McAllen College Preparatory students are headed to the state Science and Engineering Competition this March at Texas A&M University after competing among nearly 800 projects and winning 11 out of 22 different categories at the 59th Annual Rio Grande Valley Regional Science and Engineering Fair (RGV RSEF) at UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville on Feb. 2

Joán Alvarez, principal at IDEA McAllen College Prep, said the students conducted science and engineering research on campus in a range of science and engineering categories before placing in the district competition and advancing to the RGV RSEF. 

In the South Texas, the IDEA McAllen team competed against students from across the South Texas region including schools from Jim Hogg, Zapata, Willacy, Starr, Cameron, and Hidalgo Counties.

Alvarez said the campus is no stranger to the competition. Since first participating in the competition seven years ago, she said, IDEA McAllen has had Grand Champions, International Qualifiers, and even received an invite to the White House. Last year, IDEA McAllen College Preparatory even became the first IDEA campus to advance to Internationals.

“We are extremely proud of the hardworking students and coaches who represented IDEA McAllen,” Alvarez said. “I strongly believe our students are changing the world through science, engineering, mathematics, and research. We are excited for the state competition and dedicate this journey to our seniors who are completing their 7th year of competition.”

Alvarez added that IDEA McAllen will now represent the RGV region and compete against the best teams across Texas at the state fair at Texas A&M University in College Station on March 29-30. She said the event will include 20-plus categories spanning across engineering, biological sciences and physical sciences.

Winning high school entries at the state level will have the opportunity to advance to compete in the Intel® International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) this May.

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