Campus as a Test Bed

Ohio State supports "campus as a test bed" activities, in which the university is a resource for testing and improving new industrial technologies; helping faculty teams to obtain research funding; improving campus operations; and engaging students in cutting-edge sustainability science. Find out more about existing and potential projects at Campus as a Living Laboratory.

Regional Campuses Create Sustainable Micro-Farm, Solar Array

Tyler Arter, a recent graduate of The Ohio State University at Mansfield, had little previous experience with urban agriculture when he worked this year with a team of other students to set up a micro-farm that will serve as both a research and community outreach project.

“I’ve watched the project develop from a chalk board sketch to a living garden that yielded its first harvest this fall,” says Arter, who received his bachelor’s degree in psychology this spring and then was hired as the micro-farm coordinator.

“The micro-farm is extremely relevant and important to the condition of the area we live in,” he says. “Individuals suffer from food shortages across our region every day. I think the micro-farm symbolizes an opportunity to take a step towards a proper solution.”

The Mansfield micro-farm is one of two projects funded recently by the Ohio State Sustainability Fund; the Ohio State University at Marion also received support for the installation of solar panels on its new Science and Engineering Building.

(photo: The core of the micro-farm is comprised of twenty 15’ x 4’ raised beds designed to maximize edge access and allow for farming robots that can perform many of the tedious and repetitive farming tasks.)

The Ohio State Sustainability Fund aids the university community in advancing sustainability programs, policy development and cultural change on campus. The Office of Energy and Environment manages the Ohio State Sustainability Fund with review and advice from the President and Provost’s Council on Sustainability. Projects funded through the program help achieve the university’s sustainability goals, including the achievement of climate neutrality by 2050.

Kip Curtis, assistant professor of environmental history, and a team of InFACT Discovery Theme members head the micro-farm, but the farm itself is mostly student-run. The Ohio State Sustainability Fund provided $100,000 for the project.

The concept of the micro-farm is an extension of work that Curtis began in schoolyard gardens with low-income students in St. Petersburg, Fla. He wanted to continue promoting successful urban agriculture as a vehicle for teaching and a way to deliver food security to food desert areas such as Mansfield.

“Engaging students from the start really sparks interest,” says Curtis. Eight interns currently work on the site, but Curtis hopes to get more students involved. The research team designed the site and researched what crops would be best to plant for a quick growing season this fall. They are also working to ensure that the soil is healthy and that the farm will remain as organic and sustainable as possible.

Arter began working with Curtis while taking one of his environmental history classes as an undergraduate student. He has been a part of the design process for the micro-farm since its inception last spring. “This project has helped me build character in multiple ways,” says Arter, who quickly learned how to plan and manage a harvest.

He explains that the micro-farm offers an opportunity for students to learn about agriculture, and he hopes the area will become a place for students to congregate, relax and enjoy nature.

“My experience so far has been great,” he says, “and every day presents a new challenge.”

“We’ll start growing seedlings in the greenhouses on campus in January,” says Curtis, “and next season will be the first full growing season for the farm.” The micro-farm is meant to be a social justice project, and a portion of the food produced each growing season will be donated to the community.Over time, the project will expand to six acres of micro-farm plots throughout Mansfield campus. It will eventually involve “lots of different students, colleges and people,” says Curtis. He explains that in the future, the project will require a contingency of students to explore technical and robotic interventions in order to make it possible for one person to operate a site.

This micro-farm is only the first step in what Curtis hopes will become a network of micro-farms throughout the community. He aspires to tap into institutional food systems at the local level and tackle unemployment issues in the area.

His next step toward expanding the project has been spearheading the RUSS (Reaching Urban Students with Sustainability) Garden Planning Process, which had its first stakeholder meeting in October. RUSS will work to implement standardized schoolyard production gardens as living classrooms in Mansfield City Schools and across Richland County.

The Marion campus also is highlighting sustainability with the installation of solar panels on the roof of its new Science and Engineering Building. This new building is a $15.5 million project independently funded by Marion campus reserves and philanthropic donations. It has replaced and expanded the science laboratories on campus, which were previously housed in the campus’ original 1968 building, Morrill Hall. The Sustainability Fund committed $62,450 to the installation of the solar array.

“We wanted the building to represent science and technology,” says Marion campus Dean and Director Gregory Rose. Rose explains the main concerns for this project were attaining the funds to make it happen and making sure that construction plans ensured that the roof structure would be sufficient to support the solar array.

(photo: The solar array at the Mansfield campus Science and Engineering Building.)

The building houses various biology, chemistry and research labs with equipment and infrastructure that will require a considerable amount of power. The solar array helps to minimize the energy use and environmental impact of the building. The building also features energy-saving measures such as Low-E glass windows, heat recovery units, natural light harvesting, LED lights and activity sensors.

The solar panels are not capable of producing the majority of the building’s power; however, they provide an educational experience for students. The campus has installed technology that monitors how much energy the panels generate and read-outs that are available for students to see. The data indicates the percentage of the building’s energy use that is coming from the panels and how much they reduce the carbon footprint of the building.

“What surprised me was that the solar panels appear flat instead of raised and were very simple to install,” Rose says, explaining that concrete blocks laid on the roof provide the base for the solar panels, which were simply assembled on top. Rose says that moving forward, the Marion campus is considering adding solar panels to more buildings because the installation process was so simple.

President and Provost’s Council on Sustainability

Tristen Spahr is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.

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