LASR Project: Ryan Stoddard ’15 “Hydroponics”

Ryan Stoddard
The opportunity that changed my life involves five-thousand heads of lettuce, and an idea that there could be another agriculture revolution.
I work at AquaHarvest Technologies, a startup hydroponics company. I work during summer vacations, and have done so since I was a sophomore. AquaHarvest grows vegetables for supermarkets in Greater Boston. The company is committed to sustainable methods, striving to sell local produce for competitive prices at a fraction of the environmental and monetary cost of farming. My job includes planting and harvesting. I also build and maintain the hydroponic units, which are located inside refurbished shipping containers.

I never thought that what I did for work could be the future of agriculture until I was 17. At that time I was given an opportunity by The White Mountain School to study hydroponics independently for a semester, culminating in a TED talk style presentation about hydroponics, a formal research report, and firsthand research. I got to interview the managers of local grocery chains about food pricing, study cutting-edge plant science, and write about how hydroponic agriculture could revolutionize the way people are fed in the modern world. The people at AquaHarvest were excited to hear that I had taken initiative in studying the field, and I was given more opportunities to go and work there. I spent the summer of 2014 working at the company’s first commercial hydroponics unit, and learned so much about plant science, business management, and really improved my own work ethic along the way. My work experience motivated me in school, and I chose to take the more advanced courses and really challenge myself. The most important sentiment I learned from my LASR independent research project was that climate change has been making food prices rise over the past decade, and conventional agriculture is becoming less economically viable, spurring development of artificial crops and industrialized farms. In contrast, while hydroponics has always been very expensive, the brute force of pragmatic innovation will eventually overcome the large initial expense of hydroponic operations.

Working for AquaHarvest taught me an important life lesson: there is no shortcut to success in life, only through diligence in giving my absolute best can I satiate my thirst for improvement. Lettuce changed my life, marking my transition from childhood into adulthood.

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