Texas Tech med students build hydroponics system to help feed Lubbock families

Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 6:43 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - A group of students at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center School of Medicine are using hydroponics to help feed families on the South Plains, alongside non-profit Lubbock Impact.

Fourth-year graduate student Emily Fine is leading the way, combining her public health knowledge and her love for urban farming to give back to the community.

She and her classmates built a hydroponics system, which pumps recycled water through pipes, supplying plants with a nutrient-rich solution to help them grow.

The system doesn’t require soil or sunlight, and doesn’t take up much space. It’s located under a staircase at Lubbock Impact, a non-profit that offers community resources like meals, free medical and dental clinics, food and pantry vouchers, and clothing.

All the produce grown with the system will go straight to the Soup Kitchen, helping provide ingredients to feed up to 300 people a week.

With minimal maintenance, Fine says administrators at Lubbock Impact have wondered what they need to do to help keep it running.

“Wanda will text me like, ‘Hey, am I supposed to be checking on this system at all? Like, does it just run? And I’ll tell her, ‘Yeah, it just runs. You can just let it be. Enjoy the nice trickling of water,” Fine said. “Indoors you don’t even have to worry about bugs, weather stuff, especially here in Lubbock, when who knows how hot it’s going to be in the summer, as well as the wind here.”

Fine led the way for the project, after volunteering at the free medical clinic run by TTUHSC inside the nonprofit. She says during her time on the leadership team, she kept hearing the the same thing from patients.

“As a student volunteer, you also get to see the patients firsthand and what’s affecting them in their daily life. And in discussion with them, a lot of them mention that sometimes it’s hard to get healthy foods. It’s just easy to stop at a gas station or any little mart and pick up Cheetos or who knows what,” Fine said.

During undergrad school in Dallas, she volunteered at community gardens, learning more about hydroponic systems. She spent a lot of time at Big Tex Urban Farms, located at the State Fairgrounds.

During the fair offseason, she says the organization uses the parking lots to grow plants. Inside, there are several hydroponics systems. Fine says she always wanted to create a system here in Lubbock, so when it came time for a community project for med school, she knew just what to do.

“We have little small groups within the School of Medicine that you get together, I think it’s probably like once a month, maybe once every two months. We have two faculty members and in one of the discussions they asked us what we enjoy doing in our free time, hobbies,” Fine said. “And I mentioned that I was really interested in systems like this and that I would like to start one and then they just gave a lot of encouragement to me and told me like there’s nothing stopping you. You should really just try to do this.”

She reached out to Vikram Baliga, the greenhouse manager at Texas Tech, and he helped the project bloom.

“He’s been a huge help for this project. He’s really helped me with pretty much everything, from helping me figure out which grants to apply to, to going with me to the store to pick up materials, to getting his student assistants to help me build.”

While the students are testing out the system, they’re growing herbs. Later, they hope to grow heartier foods like lettuce and collard greens for the Soup Kitchen.

“We can hopefully start providing them some more nutritious foods. If anything, just like, inspire them to start a garden of their own, or just be interested in growing something for themselves,” Fine said.

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