The Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund here at the U, which was set up for faculty and students alike to “propose projects that enhance the sustainability of our campus and community,” has granted thousands of dollars towards a project proposed by the U’s Hydroponics Club which plans to plant hydroponic gardens in Lassonde Studios.
SCIF was set up in 2008 by ASUU when there became “an increasing demand for sustainable infrastructure on campus.” It is also student funded, costing $2.50 in student fees. Since its inception, there have been over $900,000 allocated to SCIF projects. This particular project was granted $6,000, and plans to use it to “construct a series of gardens on the first floor of the Lassonde Institute.”
Hydroponic agriculture is an innovative way to yield more crops with less water — a win-win. The Daily Utah Chronicle spoke with Dylan Wootton, a senior at the U studying biomedical engineering, about the project. Wootton is also a resident advisor on the second floor of Lassonde. Every Lassonde floor is themed, and the second floor is the “Sustainability and Global Impact” floor. As you step off the elevators at night, you can see the bluish glow of fluorescent hydroponic grow lights on the soilless, budding plants.
“Hydroponics is a unique form of agriculture where plants are grown in a nutrient-rich solution typically placed indoors,” Wootton said. What is the benefit of this? “Hydroponics enables plants to grow significantly faster — in about half the time — and more sustainably — using only 10 percent of the water — than traditional agricultural methods.” Also, the planting substances can even be recycled.
“We’re planning on using this money to build four vertical ‘Garden Walls’ that people can see when they first enter Lassonde,” Wootton explained. Speaking on the potentiality of hydroponics, Wootton discussed just how important innovative agricultural systems are to the future of food consumption. “Agriculture is one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and uses about 70 percent of the world’s fresh water. Developing the next generation of food production can serve to significantly reduce emissions and wasted water. If climate change or the impending water crisis are issues that you’re interested in, hydroponics is for you.”
As for the next step after the grant, Wootton said they will “use [the] system to test new technologies and build innovative solutions to scaling our operations.” Additionally, their yields will continue to serve the Feed U Pantry, the U’s on-campus food bank, and provide “fresh fruits and vegetables to the campus community, free of charge.”
Hydroponic use and awareness is growing rapidly in the United States. Elon Musk’s brother, Kimbal Musk, launched a “Next-Gen Farmer Training Program,” an integral part of the urban farming company, Square Roots, where they train young people in the nuances of indoor urban farming to launch sustainable careers in urban agriculture. The vertical farms can yield a lot — “everything grows inside 320-square-foot steel shipping containers. Each container can produce about 100 pounds of fresh herbs per week.” The program is a full-time, year-long salaried position where participants receive benefits. It seems we are at least looking up in the right direction when it comes to farming innovation.