Daniella Lewis

UT’s Micro Farm was originally only intended for academic research and education, but it is also teaching members basic components of farming, including compost.

“What I learned was more about how useful and easy sustainable farming and gardening is because there’s absolutely nothing we need to buy to make the compost,” biochemistry sophomore Michael Blake said.

Lead project student coordinator Daniella Lewis said the Micro Farm will apply for another Green Fee grant next year. The farm can pay for materials through selling crops, but it has been in contact with the Division of Housing and Food Services, which it hopes will eventually support student interns, Lewis said.

The UT Micro Farm has established a good infrastructure since its start in October 2012. It has some compost piles and also two wicking beds geared toward water conservation, according to Lewis.

Lewis said the Micro Farm is a recreational project partnering with academic programs to foster involvement and research.

“More than physical importance, we can really make a big educational impact,” Lewis said.

Civil engineering sophomore Ethan Howley taught a Composting 101 class on Sunday at the Concho Community Garden, a garden associated with the Micro Farm.

“I really think the most important thing about compost is education,” Howley said. “If everyone isn’t educated, then the compost isn’t going to work out.”

Lewis said the Micro Farm hopes to update its blog this week and make it more of a resource that provides information on topics surrounding the Micro Farm. The Micro Farm is becoming more involved with other university academic programs including architecture, Lewis said.

Stephen Ross’ architecture class might build an aesthetic screen between the farm and the house it lies behind and Francisco Gomes’ class might build a shading structure for the Micro Farm’s prep station, Lewis said.

“We want to integrate with academics, and I think that there’s a lot of opportunity for that on-site,” Lewis said.

The farm is still in its early stages because it does not have water yet, but the members have contacted the City of Austin and plan to get water installed, Lewis said.

Students are hoping to finish the tool shed at the UT Micro Farm at the farm’s second workday this weekend from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

UT’s Micro Farm is off to a not-so-micro start.

The project is aimed at growing food locally on campus for UT’s dining halls, an on-campus farm stand and a nearby food shelter. It is funded by the Green Fee committee, a group that funds environmental service-related projects on campus.

Located at 2204 Leona St., the project held its first work day last weekend, and it will have its second work day Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Daniella Lewis, architecture senior and Micro Farm lead coordinator, said the work day had a big student turnout last weekend, when they started focusing on the infrastructure of the farm.

“This weekend we hope to finish our tool shed,” Lewis said. “It will make the site a home.”

Lewis said discussion about the project’s future is part of the work day.

“We have a plan, but that plan is changing every week depending on different people’s inputs,” Lewis said. “We want as many different people to voice their opinion as possible.”

She said some of the different plants the Micro Farm will grow include jalapenos, tomatoes, herbs and squash, among others.

“It’s really exciting to get everything started,” Lewis said. “There is ample student interest that is really energizing. Students are coming out, getting engaged and pushing their opinions and ideas. They want to do more than just help.”

Lewis, who previously saw the expansion of the Concho Community Garden this past summer, said she was happy and excited to see another student-driven project start so soon.

“I don’t think there is a more flexible project on campus,” Lewis said. “I have never seen one when students so physically have the ability to make an impact, and we are in our very first few stages.”

Robert Mayberry, Division of Housing and Food Service executive chef, said if the Micro Farm project is successful, it will have an impact on UT’s food system.

“Extreme freshness means better taste and nutrition. Veggies grown just a few blocks away will require very little fuel to transport, and this will be a teaching facility,” Mayberry said.

The Campus Environmental Center will use the garden to teach gardeners how to grow vegetables. Mayberry said he is excited about the upcoming yield of crops.

“I am a huge fan of local and fresh veggies, and the Micro Farm represents the potential to serve fresh, seasonal, campus-grown produce right here in our dining facilities,” Mayberry said. “I really look forward to cooking up that first batch of veggies from the Micro Farm.”

DHFS is working with Lewis and students on the project, and environmental specialist Hunter Mangrum said this was a good step in the right direction for food service.

“We are very excited to get out there and get our hands dirty, as well,” Mangrum said. “We’re going to be out there working and sweating, as well.”

Printed on Friday, November 9, 2012 as: Student project grows local food 

 

Architecture senior Daniella Lewis lays down cardboard while volunteering at Micro Farm.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

UT will use $500,000 gathered from student fees to fund various new sustainability projects on campus this year, a move some hope will make the university’s green initiatives more widely known.

The Green Fee Initiative, funded by a $5 fee on every student’s tuition, will fund green projects including a rooftop garden, a micro farm, energy efficiency initiatives and a bat house. Collin Poirot, student vice chair of the Green Fee Committee, which coordinates the funds, said more project applications demonstrate student awareness of the initiative have grown.

“Students are finding out more and more that this resource exists for them,” he said.

Since its inception in 2010, the Green Fee has funded a tree nursery, recycling initiatives, water bottle filling stations on fountains and various composting projects.

Architecture senior Daniella Lewis received funding for the Micro Farm, a student initiative to grow
sustainable food on campus. Lewis said the farm works across several sustainability groups and hopes to make a visible difference with the funding it receives this year.

“I think part of a well-rounded education includes thinking about food and where it comes from,” she said.

Lewis said while her project is still in its beginning stages, she hopes it will eventually provide food for UT’s Division of Housing and Food Service like spices, herbs and organic tomatoes.

While the Green Fee has had more applications each cycle than it can fund, it is set to expire after summer 2016, according to the committee. In 2009, the state legislature authorized the fee and put a five-year limit on the collection. To be enacted after fall 2015, the fee must be voted on by a student referendum.

“There are going to have to be students who will gather themselves up for a campaign to reenact it,” UT Director of Sustainability Jim Walker said. “I think we’re implementing it really well, but stories about how well campus did on the green fee are going to be what enable students to feel confident about reenacting it again.”

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center also received funds this year to establish a green roof on what once was a patio cafe. Director of Gardens and Growing Andrea DeLong-Amaya said the roof should make some of the center’s research into green roofs more accessible to people.

DeLong-Amaya said while plans haven’t been finalized for the green roof’s layout, they have tentative plans for what it would look like.

“We want to have seasonal planting,” she said. “The idea is to have moveable walking surfaces, like grates that would be movable, and that they would cover plants that were dormant, and feature plants that are actively growing and blooming and looking nice.”

Printed on Monday, September 24, 2012 as: Fees fund sustainability

Nora Carney, 5, takes a mint leaf from her father to smell at the UT Community Garden Wednesday afternoon. Her family frequents the garden multiple times a week to learn about the plants and vegetables.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

UT’s first community garden, The UT Concho Community Garden, is expanding and innovating after weathering last year’s extreme drought conditions.

The garden, located on 2108 Concho St., consists of more than 30 plots, and includes five fruit trees: a peach tree, a gala apple, an Asian pear, a loquat and an Italian fig. Everything at the garden is grown organically, free of synthetic inputs and toxic pest control, and is grown for personal use, UT’s dining halls and local charities.

“The UT Concho Community Garden is place unlike any other on campus — it’s a place that’s continuously activated, created and evolved by its users,” said Daniella Lewis, architecture senior and Concho garden spokeswoman. “It provides a stress relieving environment where a micro community can form, which is especially important given the populous and overwhelming nature of UT.”

Lewis said at the garden, plot owners and volunteers executed ideas for the most innovative gardening structures that she has seen.

“Currently there is a wide spectrum of trellises all around the garden constructed of materials ranging from wood to plastic to PVC to bamboo,” Lewis said.

There’s a plot owner growing rice in a toilet bowl along with other creative materials being used in the garden, she said.

“Plots are bordered with a variety of materials too, including sheet metal and rocks,” Lewis said. “CDs hang from impromptu structures to keep birds away.”

Lewis said the project has improved since it began in spring 2011 and has plans to expand the garden and add new equipment.

“Soon we’ll be constructing a greenhouse made of recycled plastic bottles with Engineers for a Sustainable World,” she said. “We’ll also be installing a vertical garden, expanding our newly installed native Texas plants garden, building a bike-powered compost trailer, building an ‘insect hotel’ to host beneficial insects, expanding wildlife habitat and lots of other cool things.”

During the first months of the Concho garden, Texas was just going into one of its worst droughts on record.

“We didn’t even have a rain gauge, a very basic garden implement — actually since it never rained, I don’t think it even crossed our minds,” Lewis said. “By the summer our soil was basically dust. The garden was not very prolific.”

However, Lewis said this year has been the best yet. She said with all of the extra moisture and humidity keeping water retention in the soil, many plants flourishing, and with compost that has been piling up over the past year, soil conditions have improved dramatically.

“We have our first functional rainwater harvesting system installed, and plan on constructing more of these systems around our site to take advantage of rains when they happen and lessen our tap water consumption,” Lewis said. “Drought and climate change are serious environmental factors we must consider, and the garden is the perfect opportunity to implement smart and sustainable strategies.”

Meagan Jones, environmental specialist for the Division of Housing and Food Services, said DHFS, a supporter of the Concho garden, maintains three plots of herbs and vegetables that are served in the school’s dining halls.

She said DHFS used more than 180 pounds of herbs and produce harvested from UT’s own gardens during the 2011-12 academic year.

“We are also working with a student on the micro farm project that will hopefully get off the ground this fall, which will greatly increase the amount of food that is grown on our campus for the dining halls,” Jones said. “We have been working hard to increase the amount of local and/or sustainable food that we serve in the dining halls and have just reached 20 percent of food purchases from this category.”

Jones said growing 5 percent of the food used on campus would be incredible, but that the current gardens would not be able to meet the demand needed for the 5 million meals served last year.

“If the University continues to allow the expansion of the garden and micro farm projects we could possibly meet that goal in the future,” she said.

Green thumbs on campus will soon have a garden to call their own.

After a semester’s worth of delays, UT’s Gardening Committee held their first community garden workday in East Austin on Saturday.

More than 50 people showed up throughout the day to help ready the site for use. Some volunteers pulled weeds, while others constructed and filled raised garden beds that portioned the 5,873-square-foot tract of land into plots to be rented out to University organizations and community members.

“We wanted to create a place for people to pursue their gardening desires,” said Daniella Lewis, the student coordinator heading the project. “I think there are a lot of people in dorms or apartments who want to be able to garden but obviously don’t have a yard.”

The committee was scheduled to begin work on the garden last semester, but its plans were put on hold when surface soil test results revealed trace amounts of lead present on the property. The top six inches of the site’s dirt have since been reconditioned to remove the lead.

The committee hopes the garden will raise awareness of food sustainability while providing organic produce for the UT community.

“Food is an important component of life,” said Mark McKim, a Campus Environmental Center recycling intern. “This is a great opportunity for students to not only learn about where food comes from but to grow it themselves.”

The committee is currently working with Jester Center executive chef Robert Mayberry to see if herbs grown in the community garden can be used in the building’s dining hall.

“We’re hoping to get a market started on campus to sell the produce grown here,” Lewis said. “The ultimate goal is to one day be able to provide 5 percent of UT’s fresh produce with our community gardens in a few years’ time.”

For the volunteers, the workday was a chance to learn a valuable skill while also helping to create something new and useful.

“I definitely didn’t know how to lay a planting bed before,” said mathematics junior Kuroush Nezafati. “I feel good about getting involved in something that you can see results in. The fact that some of the produce here could be used in campus cafeterias gives it more of a relativity to my life.”

The individually divided plots are available to either organizations or individuals in the community for $20 or $10 per semester, respectively. If the garden does well, it could expand to include additional plots of land.