With degrees in business and horticulture, Assistant Director of Food Services Jonathan Hall is responsible for maintaining Loyalsock Township School District’s hydroponic garden as well as helping students use their cooking skills to positively impact the Williamsport, Pa., community at large. Here’s how he does it.
Q: Can you share how your degree in business has helped you in your current role?
The business degree really has refined my skills in anticipation and planning, which is really where I think a lot of crops come back to—realizing that they take time to grow and planning to make sure that they have the right nutrients, the right sunlight, right temperature, all those different variables, all in the right environment.
Q: Can you share more about the student culinary impact group that you run?
It's a group of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who are interested in cooking, and we meet once a week during the last class period on Friday. We started at the beginning of the school year teaching them the basics of slicing, dicing and mincing, and how to measure [and] use the stovetop and oven. From there, we did some different “Chopped” competitions with them, which they absolutely love.
The purpose of the group is to have an impact on the students, but then also to have an impact on the community around them. So, at Christmastime, we made trays of cookies for a local nursing home and Christmas cards for all of them. We also have tried to get involved with our local food bank. We've made two separate trips there: one volunteering with them at one of their fundraisers and then another to their actual facility, where they did a cooking demonstration, a poverty simulation and gave us a tour of everything that's going on.
Q: What are some best practices for those just starting out with a hydroponic garden?
It’s about going for it and making that leap to get it done. Also, realizing that if [districts] are not skilled in hydroponics but can line up the resources for it, there are probably people in their community that would be willing to do it.
The company that we use for hydroponics does a great job with the education side, so they have an entire YouTube channel that's dedicated to just setting up the system, how to make it run. At the end of the day, really a lot of your costs—and your labor—are on the front end. So that once you get [the hydroponic system] up and running, it just kind of runs itself. It's very efficient in that way. It doesn't take a lot of time.