Hydroponics is a 17th-century creation, but it has become a 21st-century popular innovation, increasing its use worldwide. Yet, unique to Chester County Life Plan Community, the Kendal at Longwood campus residents created a hydroponics lab that provides a year-round space to grow produce and raise awareness of climate change, conservation, energy efficiency, food production, health and nutrition, and sustainable development.

Intense planning, engaging administrative staff, and bringing in a technical resource person, the residents cultivate the seed, water, feed, transplant, prune, and harvest the produce. “The lettuce grows so fast,” says Gina Bosworth, Kendal at Longwood resident. “All residents and staff can see inside the lab, know what is growing, and get inspired,” says Bosworth.

The produce market can be volatile. Draught, frosts, and other weather or natural disasters can affect obtaining essential vegetation. “Our kitchens use the produce grown in the lab, says John Platt, Director of Culinary Services. Our chefs mix the hydroponically grown cabbage, arugula, kale, spinach, herbs, and more with other greens, and soon we look forward to tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries,” says Platt.

Residents and staff member in front of their hydroponic lab where many plants, in various stages are growing

Hydroponics uses a mineral-based nutrient solution to nourish plants in a soil-less environment. This nutrient solution is re-circulated in an active hydroponics system, passing over the roots continuously. This is the primary reason why plants are grown in hydroponics – – the use of 80-90% less water than plants grown using conventional techniques. “Over time, we’ve improved our equipment to grow plants horizontally, and the industry improved lighting that uses less electricity,” says Marilyn Van Renterghem, Kendal at Longwood resident.

“Our lab is one of many initiatives we take to reduce our carbon footprint, says George Alexander, Kendal at Longwood resident. “With less farm equipment, fertilizer, water, runoff, soil erosion, packaging, and delivery from warmer areas, we can participate in a sustainable environment that is good for all,” says Alexander.

Currently, over 100 plants are in various stages of growth in the lab, and the residents and staff hope to enlarge the space to grow more items and enjoy them in their dining venues.