Lessons From a Sustainable Farm

When Erick Mendoza toured The Citadel, he quickly decided it was the perfect fit. “I have always been a structured person,” he said. “I needed the discipline, and I came here for the band.”

For the last 10 years, the Indianapolis native has been playing the euphonium, a brass instrument that looks like a small tuba. He also came to The Citadel because he wanted to serve. Although he comes from a military family, Mendoza’s need to serve is actually in the field of education. “As a little kid, I wanted to be a teacher,” he said. “It’s always been my dream to teach.” A social studies education major, Mendoza completed a semester-long student-teaching assignment in the spring at Wando High School in Mount Pleasant, where he taught geography and world history.

With his band and student-teaching obligations, free time seems as if it would be in short supply, but Mendoza was able to make time to serve as president of the Sustainability Project, a campus club run by cadets under the guidance of STEM Director Jennifer Albert, Ph.D.

Next to the rifle and pistol range on the Ashley River sits a 320-square-foot container where the aeroponic farming operation takes place. After starting seeds in pods made from coconut grounds, cadets place the seedlings in the vertical panels that hang from the container ceiling. There are 14 double-sided panels that hold 160 plants each. The planting cycle takes about six weeks, with cadets harvesting 2,000 plants on a two-week rotation schedule. From planting seeds to monitoring temperature, water and nutrient levels from a web interface that works from their phones, cadets manage a farming operation that supplies faculty and staff and the mess hall with fresh, local greens, herbs, strawberries and peas.

“Sustainable farming is important to feeding the world,” said Mendoza, who graduated in May. “This is a lesson that I will take with me into the classroom.”