- Associated Press - Saturday, April 22, 2017

KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) - Lowie Watkins, a Hemingway Elementary fourth-grader, had something to say.

Teacher Lydia Flynn said she had shown her classes Caleb Harper’s Ted Talk about “food computers,” and Lowie took a particular interest. The talk discusses the fact that only about 2 percent of the nation’s workers are farmers, but people could start efficiently growing their own food using computer-maintained, climate-controlled boxes

A while later, Lowie asked Flynn if she could have four minutes in front of the class. Without knowing what Lowie would say, Flynn agreed.

Lowie gave an impassioned speech about how their class should have their own food computer, she said, ending with, “Who’s with me?”

Nervous about how to make that happen, Flynn said she started researching what it would take to build a food computer and quickly realized the assembly and computer coding were beyond what she could do alone. Before long, she reached out to Wood River High School teacher Kevin Lupton to ask if his engineering class could help. If they were able to get the materials, she told him, the Hemingway students were suggesting building two food computers: one for the high school and one for Hemingway.



“It sounds like fun,” Lupton told her.

He said in an interview that he had never built a greenhouse or anything like a food computer before but, “We’ll figure it out.”

“This is what engineers do,” he said. “We’re programmed to solve problems.”

Flynn still had to get the supplies to build a food computer, though. She reached out to Kristy Heitzman and the Blaine County Education Foundation to ask for help. Heitzman said the foundation was able to write, and receive, a $1,500 grant from Power Engineers while donating $1,000 from the foundation itself. The final $500 came from the Hemingway Parent Auxiliary.

Beyond that, she said, Webb Nursery agreed to provide seeds and dirt while The Hunger Coalition’s Bloom Garden program offered to help teach the kids about planting and gardening.

Flynn said even the high school’s botany class will participate, likely working with the elementary students to conduct experiments using both computers.

In April, Lupton welcomed Flynn’s third- and fourth-graders into his high school classroom, full of specialized equipment, robots and high schoolers.

“I’ve never seen them so quiet,” Flynn said.

The high schoolers worked with the elementary group, offering the younger students a chance to help drill, assemble or spray paint what would become the food computers. They worked together trying to figure out how to put the computer boxes together as Lupton ran from group to group, solving the occasional problem.

At the end of the day, the younger kids were starting to get hungry, but there were smiles all around, from the teachers, to the students to the parent chaperones,” Flynn said.

“If we ever do a food computer again, I’ll remember to do a small snack before we leave,” she assured one of the students.

Lupton said he expects the food computers to take until nearly the end of the year to complete, but Flynn hopes the students, including Watkins, are able to use them to harvest at least one crop before heading off for the summer.

___

Information from: Idaho Mountain Express, https://www.mtexpress.com

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