Team-building and healthy eating are part of his curriculum.
“Changing lives one plant at a time,” is the heart and goal of Spirit of the Canyon owner Stoney Ward, who has had a vision for hydroponic gardening since moving to Grand Canyon Junction (also known as Valle) four years ago.
“I want to show people, especially school children, how to be healthier and how growing healthy foods such as microgreens is tasty, inexpensive and fast,” said Ward.
Ward’s vision has mushroomed into teaching 7th, 8th and 9th graders at Grand Canyon School, where students learn about several forms of hydroponics along with different systems such as microgreens and self-wicking systems with soil.
“My ultimate goal is to teach students how they can grow their own food no matter where they live and use less water than traditional farming,” said Ward. “I believe that instructing these kids about hydroponics and urban farming will help them prepare for their futures by helping them realize they can grow their own food, in their own space, especially during critical times such as climate change, pandemics, etc.”
“I think it’s really interesting and I think it’s really important for the future and to help the community in many ways,” said 7th grader Ronan Alvarez, 13, “I’m eating better now and I appreciate fresh vegetables. I want to grow microgreens at home.”
On the menu in Ward’s classes are sunflowers, peas and broccoli microgreens, along with several varieties of lettuce. Microgreen seeds are harvested at a very young stage and the sprouts mimic the flavor of the full-grown vegetable. “They are very nutritious,” he said.
Employed as general manager of Buck Wild Hummer Tours in Tusayan, Ward moved to Grand Canyon Junction from Las Vegas where he owned an outdoor recreation company. “I’ve worked with thousands of kids, teaching them survival courses, team building, zipline, ropes courses and whitewater rafting at Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort.”
For good measure, Ward says he likes to incorporate team building into his lessons. “No matter what their future job is, team building helps them learn how to work together as a team to accomplish their goals.”
Starting each class with breathing exercises is also a part of Ward’s instruction. “I’ve encountered some youth who seem pretty listless and uninspired. This could be partly due to the past two years of life during a pandemic and the uncertainty in their lives. Plus, kids spend a lot of time on their devices, [they have] unhealthy eating habits and not enough time doing hands-on tasks and exercise. Oxygen is good.”
“Mr. Ward has amazing energy and that’s a really great starting point, especially for middle school students,” said Grand Canyon School science/environmental science instructor Adrian Alvarez. “The students are really excited to see how fast the growing process is for microgreens. The other thing they’re really excited about with hydroponics is the low usage of water. A lot of us live in rural areas, so we know the importance of protecting our water, as many of us haul water to our homes.”
The students also have shown a lot of interest in the nutritional value of microgreens and how they can incorporate this into their diets, said Alvarez. “They are really excited to share this experience with their families and the community at large.”
As the students grow plants, they will be donating them to local food banks. “They will also be hosting a Farmers Market to bring healthy and organic produce to the community,” said Ward.
Spirit of the Canyon has gained support from the Grand Canyon Rotary Club with a generous donation. “Our kids are our future and more education about hydroponics is good for our community and I’m really glad about Stoney’s program with the kids. Fresh, pure organic vegetables and fruits and water conservation is important,” said Grand Canyon Rotary Club President Clayann Cook.
Located in Grand Canyon Junction, Ward established and constructed Spirit of the Canyon hydroponics ranch last May. “My plans are to have the students who are involved in this project come out to see the ranch and experience hydroponic farming first-hand.”
Ward plans to work with other farmers in the area and expand his educational program. “Once the foundation is set here at Grand Canyon School, I plan to use it as a model for other schools in Northern Arizona,” he said.
For more information about Spirit of the Canyon, visit
spiritofthecanyon.com or call
ADVICE FOR THOSE STARTING A BUSINESS
You need to make sure you have the passion for what you are doing. Research your competitors and create a business plan with the understanding that you will probably make changes along the way. A marketing plan is also important.
CHARACTER QUALITIES ADMIRED IN OTHERS
First, I love learning who they are and what they enjoy. I then like to understand what personality type they are: promoter, controller, analytic, supporter.
Enjoying nature’s wonders is tops.
FAVORITE VACATION SPOT
Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon.
Is regulating my body temperature under extreme conditions through the Wim Hof [a Dutch extreme athlete] Method. It has been life-changing for me. FBN
By V. Ronnie Tierney, FBN