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Urban farming makes its debut on campus

Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012

Updated: Sunday, September 30, 2012 20:09

ufo garden

Megan Deppen

UFO experiments with recycled Gatorade bottles to house some of their plants.

The Urban Farming Organization (UFO) at DePaul is one of the many urban farms blossoming at universities and city parks in Chicago. A city tour of urban farms hosted by the Chicago Higher Education Sustainable Food Systems Network showcased farms from Loyola University, Schrieber Park, the City Farm and UFO’s own DePaul Urban Garden (DUG) Sept. 22 – and no, there were not any crop circles.

UFO has provided a new way to abduct involve college students in Chicago.

The Chicago Higher Education Sustainable Food Systems Network is a collaborative effort amongst universities in Chicago including DePaul, UIC, IIT, the University of Chicago, Loyola and more. Founded by DePaul’s own Howard Rosing and Professor Rodger Cooley from the Illinois Institute of Technology, the network’s mission is to “create dialogue that can lead to multi-institutional, community-engaged and scholarly projects in support of sustainable food systems.”

According to Rosing, the success of urban agriculture lies in establishments like the Network. “There’s no one institution that can have all the resources and outreach mechanisms for supporting agriculture,” said Rosing. “Through collaboration, (universities) can work together to support food system development in city.”

On the tour students discussed their own farming techniques, like using the Solar Pod at the Loyola Winthrop Garden and Agribon Row Covers at the DUG. Both protective devices allow farmers to grow leafy greens and cold crops during the winter season.

Senior Andy Chae, UFO treasurer, believes that in urban agriculture, “collaboration is key … there’s no competition.”

Matt Griffith, UFO vice president of 2012, said that “each [farm] is unique,” and universities communicate and share each other’s ideas and resources to create one large community.

Faith Kohler, senior and president of UFO last year, said that the garden is a place for “students to see that they are capable of making real change in their environment and their community … [DUG is] a space for students, faculty, and staff to learn about urban agriculture.”

Kohler said that nowadays “agriculture is not what society has painted it to be.” Modern agriculture is not exclusively the image of Old McDonald on a tractor wearing overalls anymore. Urban farming is a high-tech, innovating science that is a growing trend in Chicago.

Though many of these high-tech facilities are not what you might expect.

The Plant, once a meatpacking facility in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, now houses net-zero energy aquaponic growing systems through a renewable energy system that requires no fossil fuels. Basically, feces from fish tanks are recycled into compost soil for farms, which circulate water back into the fish tanks, resulting in a self-sustainable system.

DePaul’s farm is not quite as complex, but fits their eco-friendly values by using organic, compost topsoil for raised-bed gardens made out of recycled composite material that house fruits and vegetables that are donated to the Seton Food Pantry

UFO is not just for environmental science majors. Chae and Griffith both agree that other clubs and organizations on campus can be a part of the community and get involved.

This past week, students from the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) began filming a documentary focused on “[raising] awareness about hunger in Chicago.” With DUG as the star, DePaul filmmakers aim to show the “impact…urban agriculture [has] on a local community.”

DePaul’s science programs are also contributing to DUG. Engineering protégés from DePaul are involved in talk of a hydro or aquaponic outdoor system similar to The Plant’s system.

What’s next for UFO? Expect a bee invasion. The leading pollinators in the animal kingdom will hopefully have a home in DePaul’s garden sometime next year.

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