The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Food Insecurities - Build a Solution

The goal of this project is the develop a learning activity that could be used in a makerspace or classroom that introduces food deserts and sustainable gardening solutions, then participants will design solutions for a sustainable garden.  While this is designed for small groups, individuals may use it for individual learning.   

This project is a work-in-progress.  If there are any concerns about methodology or accessibility, please email Dennis Spencer,, for feedback.   

Companion Activity

A companion learning activity, Food Insecurities:  Food Deserts and Sustainable Solutions,  is available in which participants learn about food deserts and design a sustainable garden in their local area.  


Student will build a minimally viable product related to one type of a sustainable gardening solution, a self watering system or hydroponics. 


Students will build one type of sustainable gardening and present their project to the group.  They will need to determine what plants to grow, lighting, and the electronics to processes to manage growth (ph sensor, moisture sensor, etc).  Optional: Students are asked how they would scale their solutions to work in a community garden.      

  • Title of Lesson:  Sustainable Gardening Options
  • Grade Level(s) :  Higher Education
  • Essential Question:  What are the pros/cons of the two sustainable gardening solutions?


Students will be able to learn about sustainable horticulture, programming, engineering, electronics.

Description of Lesson

  1. Review videos 
  2. Split into groups and determine the type of gardening solution to build.
  3. Ask students to write instructions for mapping code.  Review existing code and implement into their system. Build unit and test.
  4. Develop presentation about the benefits of the chosen solution and how to scale and present cost.  


  1. What resources do you already have?
  2. What materials can be repurposed for this project?
  3. What type of plants will you grow?
  4. Will the plants be grown indoors or outdoors?
  5. What types of lights are available for indoor growing?
  6. How could either solution be scaled to support a larger garden?


1 project per 2 persons.  Presentations are 3-5 minutes.  


  • Self watering system:  $140 parts, plant
  • Hydroponics: ???  reservoir, pump, nutrients, plants, cups, medium to grow, ph sensor, Arduino


  • Critical Thinking
  • Design
  • Collaboration
  • Computational Thinking
  • Technology Literacy


Implemented in small groups.  Challenges are learning programing concepts/writing, solder electronics,  lack of time, intimidation of programming/electronics.  


Students will have a functioning proof of concept and present their solutions and, through that, demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter.  




Simple Plan

Automatic Watering System for Plants Using Arduino
Cost:  Around $50.  Nutrient materials not included in price. 


  1. Arduino
  2. Relay
  3. Pump
  4. Reservoir
  5. Moisture Sensor 
Moderate Plan

Aquabot: Arduino Gardening System
Cost:  Around $140

Parts - Links to parts are available on the tutorial web page.  

  1. Arduino Uno
  2. Small water pump
  3. Corrosion resistant soil moisture sensor
  4. Non contact liquid level sensor
  5. Jumper wires
  6. Switch
  7. Barrel jack
  8. A 9v and 12v power supply
  9. USB type A to B cable
  10. A small electronic beeper (piezoelectric alarm)
  11. A waterproof box
  12. Electrical tape
  13. Tubing to conduct the water from the pump. The pump I suggested comes with plenty
  14. Reservoir