Since March 23, the Stu-Fac has been home to three brand-new artificial gardens which can be seen in the wall separating the freshman pit and the faculty tables. They have thus far been a modest yet intriguing addition to CA’s most central building.

Designed by the company AeroGarden, the gardens can grow six plants each and operate on electricity alone. They are currently housing herbs such as thyme, basil, and parsley. While a glance would lead one to assume that they operate based on traditional agriculture, the foundation for these gardens is a little-known technique called hydroponics.

But what exactly is hydroponics? Though you have probably never heard the word in your life, hydroponics is a prominent and applicable method of agriculture that is used by farmers, gardeners, and even the average person. Its defining trait is that it does not require soil or irrigation. Instead of planting seeds and waiting for rain to fall, plants are permanently submerged by their roots in nutrient-rich water while being bathed in light. The nutrients can be provided by a wide variety of sources such as fish excrement, livestock manure, and chemical-based solutions.

Hydroponics has many advantages over traditional agriculture, its primary one being that it consumes significantly less water—up to 90% less. Because it requires zero irrigation, it is particularly useful in regions that are water-stressed and struggling to overcome the staggering water demands of large-scale agriculture. It is also compact and maximizes space use efficiency, as evidenced by how the gardens can grow six plants in just a square foot of space. Furthermore, it can be used fully indoors, avoiding problems such as pests, weather conditions, and even changes in temperature caused by the seasonal cycle.

However, it is difficult to set up hydroponics on a massive scale like it is with traditional agriculture. Though it can provide for your average household, expenses quickly stack up as the scale increases. While our gardens certainly will not supply enough produce to cook hundreds of meals with, they remain an example of what the future of sustainable agriculture may look like. And who knows—maybe the next bite of salad you take will have been made through hydroponics.