Sustainability

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is now home to two hydroponic ‘micro farms’

Each vertical growing tower can produce as much as 2,000 square feet of outdoor farmland.
Staff working on the garden
The first harvest is expected in two weeks for the microgreens and six weeks for the larger plants. / Photo courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UW-Eau Claire) has recently unveiled a new hydroponic garden system. The “micro farms” seek to increase sustainable food sourcing and provide students with access to fresh produce on campus.

The two hydroponic micro farms are enclosed vertical growing towers that reach seven feet high. According to a statement, one unit can produce as much as 2,000 square feet of outdoor farmland. Additionally, each unit can save 7.13 pounds of fertilizer, 97.5 pounds of food waste and 13,128 gallons of water each year. The units also use zero pesticides and can house up to 45 plant varieties of herbs, lettuces, microgreens and leafy greens.

The farms were purchased from a Pennsylvania company called Babylon Micro-Farms and are installed on the ground level of Davies Center at UW-Eau Claire. The first harvest is expected in two weeks for the microgreens and six weeks for the larger plants.

“There were many options to go with, and we chose Babylon for the in-house monitoring and support that comes with their units,” said Lily Strehlow, campus sustainability specialist in the risk management, safety and sustainability department, in a statement, “These towers have cameras on each tier connected to a mobile application, allowing Babylon to observe the plants as they grow and advise us as needed on care and maintenance. That frees up our time to work on other sustainability projects.”

The project grew from direct requests from students and has been funded by a partnership between Sodexo and the division of finance and administration, according to a statement.

“Last year, in 2021, students organized and reached out to leadership in Vice Chancellor Crickette’s office and to our partners in Sodexo and expressed concerns over the lack of fresh produce available to students after Hilltop and Davies closes, and in the Campus Harvest food pantry,” Strehlow said. “They said they wanted to be able to make healthier choices and eat more locally sourced foods. As produce from the units becomes available, it will be offered to both Sodexo and the Campus Harvest food pantry.”

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