The Solar-Powered Girl-Powered Wash Station... finished!

Back in June, I told you all about a brilliant young woman at Hutchison who designed, planned, and built a solar-powered vegetable wash station at the farm. Well, she's finished it! Here's the full story, from beginning to end.



Have you ever been so bowled over by the brilliance of a teen that it leaves you speechless?

This past fall, I was busily tucking tiny kale seeds in to the warm soil of the Hutchison farm, when a freshman girl wandered in through the gate. 

"Hi, Mrs. Riddle! My name is Elizabeth. I've designed a solar-powered vegetable wash station that will allow us to capture the gray water from the sink into a cylindrical chamber that will clean the water using a small motor and a UV filtration system. Would you like to see it?"

Me: [blink, blink]

"I've created a budget for it and preliminary blueprints."

Me: [jaw falls slightly agape.]

Pulling myself together, I ask her which class this is for, and who's giving her credit for this.

"Oh no," she says, "I'm doing this just for fun."

For fun, I later find out, in between her classes, quiz bowl competitions, and running tech for two school plays, but I digress.

Working with Henry Hampton, our Physical Plant Director, Elizabeth fine-tuned her idea and got her plan and budget approved. She decided that she wanted her station to be useful and educational, so she added a component to capture and sanitize rain water, because, as she said, "it's important for us to learn about water conservation."

Parts were ordered, and the plan was set in motion. Elizabeth came out to the school over the course of three weeks during her summer vacation to build her design. Two wonderful members of the Hutchison maintenance staff, Carnell Benton and Napoleon Logan, helped Elizabeth with the build every step of the way. Even on 100 degree days, she could be found at the top of a ladder, nailing shingles into a roof, or unloading the latest shipment of lumber. She ran the show with grit and grace. 

Last week, I am thrilled to report, she finally got to put the finishing touch on her project: the solar panel! With several second and fourth grade classes watching, she climbed up onto the roof of her building and installed  it. In a few minutes, the battery was charged up enough to get the pump moving. Elizabeth collected rain water in barrels over the summer, and with the flip of a switch, the rain water was pumped through her invention and into the sink. (I was able to wash a whole crate of cucumbers just using filtered rain water. That was a first for me!)

Installing the solar panel. Photo by Cathy Barber.

Installing the solar panel. Photo by Cathy Barber.

The younger kids (and, let's be honest, all of the adults) were stunned, and I could see the gears in their head starting to turn. The girls were full of questions. Their hands shot up in the air like popcorn as they asked her things like, "Did you have to make several versions of your plan, or did you get it right the first time?" and "How do solar panels work?" and "Where does the water go once it's used?" Elizabeth may have inspired an entire new generation of budding scientists and engineers!

One of the greatest things about working with kids and teens is that they show you on a daily basis to never underestimate them. With just a little bit of support and the proper resources, Elizabeth was able to invent something new and useful. I can't wait to see how she changes the world. Way to go, Elizabeth!

The whole crew. Photo by Cathy Barber.

The whole crew. Photo by Cathy Barber.

The finished product! Photo by Cathy Barber. 

The finished product! Photo by Cathy Barber. 

Growing Young Entrepreneurs

The school where I work has a fantastic new program called Hutchison Invests. The program trains young women in social entrepreneurship, providing valuable services like business incubation, mentoring, and internship matching. Hutchison Invests is directed by an incredibly talented colleague of mine, Kim Ware. 

Kim reached out to me several weeks ago wanting to collaborate on a project for her young entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurship and eco-friendly gardening seem to go hand-in-hand. We put our brains together and decided that we'd ask the girls to come up with a marketing plan to sell some of the honey that I was pulling off of the hives at the school farm. The girls took to the project like, well, bees to honey, and their results astounded us. 

These young women researched federal, state, and county health requirements to ensure that we were in compliance with all regulations. They designed a honey label that met those standards. They designed their own packaging. They researched honey pricing and helped determine what our break-even point would be. Then, they filtered, bottled, and labeled an initial prototype batch of about fourteen pounds of Hutchison-made honey, and took it to the Buzz Shop, our on-campus gift store.

The girls had already prepared a pitch to share with Bess, the Buzz Shop manager. Two of the girls prepared slides with consumer benefits, along with a proposed price (and class commission for their stellar marketing work!) Bess agreed to carry the honey, and they sold out in THREE HOURS. 

The girls are finishing up their exams this week before they leave for the summer, but they are already making plans about expanding their honey line this coming fall, and potentially adding other hive products like beeswax candles and lip balms.

It's a joy to work with such impressive young women and innovative colleagues.  We're going to be restocking our honey soon, so if you're in the Memphis area, make plans to come to the Buzz Shop this summer to try some of this honey for yourself. There can't be a more delicious way to support the work of young entrepreneurs. 


Spring Chaos

Phew! It's been a minute since I've written, huh? Spring is in full swing, and I'm in peak chaos! I thought I'd take a minute today to share some of the cool things going on in the garden. 

French breakfast radish

French breakfast radish

The girls in pre-K became intrigued by root vegetables recently. They just love it that some veggies grow underground. (I love how wondrous the world is through a child's eyes!) They decided to plant one of the raised beds on the farm with three different kinds of root vegetables to observe how they grew. The girls planted French breakfast radishes, Easter egg radishes, and Chioggia beets. They came out to the farm almost every day to observe, take pictures, and measure the plants' growth. Well, last week the radishes were ready, and they got to pull them up! They loved making predictions about what the radishes would look like before they pulled them out of the ground. That was especially fun to do with the Easter egg radishes, because they were all different colors! The Chioggia beets are still in the ground and will be ready in a few weeks.

Blue bonnet rice

Blue bonnet rice

I've also been working on a cool project with upper school girls. Our sophomore English class read The Things They Carried, which is a novel about the Vietnam War. Many of the scenes take place in rice paddies in Vietnam. To help the girls better understand the setting, we learned about traditional methods of growing rice. We watched videos of rice production, looked at pictures, and then got to start our own rice from seed. The plants are shooting up in our grow light station, and we'll plant them outside next week. This rice is a highland variety, which takes less water to grow than lowland varieties. I've never grown rice before, so I'm looking forward to learning about it more. I'll keep y'all posted!

The production and planting schedule is just going gangbusters over here. In the last week, we've harvested hundreds of pounds of leeks, bok choy, radishes, sorrel, arugula, green garlic, herbs. We've planted okra, basil, cantaloupe, cotton, kohlrabi, cosmos, and tomatoes. And the flowers! The flowers are stunning right now. Snapdragons, anemones, bachelor's buttons, nigella, and larkspur are at their peak. It might be chaotic right now, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's good to be a grower in April!

What's going on in your garden this month? Tell me all about it in the comments or on one of my social media pages! 

Happy growing, 

Mary Riddle

My leek-y sink. ;) 

My leek-y sink. ;) 

Girls harvesting baby bok choy

Girls harvesting baby bok choy