Project IF - Phase II
Project Indoor Farm (Project IF) is an organization run by students and community members aiming to create a more sustainable campus food system through urban indoor farming.
We envision three phases of operation for Project IF:
Phase I: Feasibility study (completed in December 2019)
Phase II: Full operation on the University of Washington campus (2020 and on)
Phase III: Transfer the successful experience to other suitable organizations (2022 and on)
In the proposed Phase II operation, Project IF’s goal is to grow leafy greens and herbs for the University of Washington Housing and Food Services – providing locally sourced, sustainably grown produce to dining halls, cafes, and restaurants on campus. Project IF addresses sustainability by helping to eliminate transportation, packaging, and other resources traditionally used when growing and distributing food. Equally important, this project will create a space for students to apply their knowledge and passion from the classroom to our farm directly impacting sustainable urban agriculture. Running day-to-day operations and improving the farm through design projects and research will provide a unique learning opportunity with real world application. Project IF fills the gap of giving a hands-on experience to students within indoor urban agriculture, a rapidly expanding industry that will play an increasingly relevant role in helping feed the world.
The 2020 grant request from the UW CSF will enable Project IF to proceed to Phase II and begin to allocate resources to education. With additional funding, Project IF will build on the Feasibility Study and scale up its farming efforts by expanding the physical farm, paying student staff, and setting aside funding for operational resources, business ventures, and research and design projects. The plan is to have Project IF’s production financially support its educational endeavors.
Student involvement is the key to Project IF’s success. All our activities aim to foster awareness of the strains on our food system. This is not possible without consistent and committed student involvement. To continue incentivizing and engaging as many students as possible, we designed a set of clear metrics to monitor impacts which will help us narrow in our focus. The data we collect will give us the insight to understand Project IF’s social reach and potential to grow on other campuses.
We summarized eight ways for students to get involved with Project IF with varying levels of commitment:
- Produce consumption. The easiest way to be involved and support Project IF is to dine on campus and eat our greens! Students can enjoy fresh, locally grown produce at the HFS-sponsored organizations we will partner with! With virtually zero transportation and waste, this metric demonstrates how sustainability is truly a core value that UW students stand for.
- Website and monthly news. Our outreach team will publish a monthly newsletter about Project IF and other related stories that we think are worth sharing with the student subscribers. Students can subscribe to our monthly newsletter or view it directly on our website.
- Social media. We have accounts on three major social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. This is another easy way for students to stay in touch and learn how to be further involved in Project IF.
- Farm tour. We will routinely host farm tours upon request. In the recent past, we hosted about 2 to 3 tours every month. We expect the frequency to increase by a fair amount once we reach the full operation in Phase II. For those who have hands-on experience, we will also provide an unofficial certificate of urban farm training as a souvenir.
- Student staff. Since Project IF is designed to be student-led with minimal oversight. We expect to have 10 to 15 students trained as paid staff to work at Project IF every year.
- Student volunteer program. In addition to the student staff that work at the farm, we will also accept student volunteers to help with various tasks ranging from farm operations to outreach and education.
- Independent or capstone projects. We currently have 15 project ideas (with more to come) for students to start working on. With the collaboration of Professor Eli Wheat and Professor Sean McDonald, we hope these project ideas come to fruition. We also encourage students to consult with us on their ideas for possible projects.
- Class collaboration. With three class collaborations (ENVIR 240, LARCH 501D, NUTR 303) already in progress for the coming winter and spring quarters, we would love to be part of more courses on campus and share our vision and story. It is another great channel for us to engage and interact with students in depth and potentially recruit more student-staff/volunteers and inspire more independent projects.
We view all aspects of student involvement as part of the impact we make. We will capture the quantitative data for all eight possible ways as part of the measurable metrics of student involvement and its intrinsic social impact.
Education & Outreach:
The core mission of Project IF is to raise awareness on the food ecosystem, both locally and globally. Realizing the problems in the current food system is the first step towards solving the global food crisis and improving our local food ecosystem. Project IF can raise awareness by providing students with locally grown food and encouraging them to question where their meals come from. When students learn that the salad they had for lunch was grown by their classmates, it will spark their curiosity and automatically make them directly involved in the solution. It will also provide students with an example of how their peers dedicate their time to act more sustainably. This dining hall exposure will create a unique platform to highlight Project IF and its mission, leading to more student involvement through online resources, farm tours, and working with our organization. Through this exposure, more people will gain individual insight into what they can do to help to improve the future food system. It’s like planting a seed: once becoming aware, actions are sure to follow.
In the Phase I feasibility study (2019), Project IF has grown to encompass 15 volunteers who have worked to expand the farm’s operations and outreach. Volunteers have established a formal website (https://projectifuw.wixsite.com/projectif), social media platforms (https://www.instagram.com/projectifuw/) (https://www.facebook.com/projectifuw/) (https://www.linkedin.com/company/project-if-uw/), a user-instruction software called Aquarium (https://www.aquarium.bio), and promotional material such as this video (https://www.instagram.com/p/B4dYGOmlqo1/?hl=en) to attract students to support and even join Project IF.
In recent months, we have had the privilege of meeting with students and faculty members and providing tours of the farm to different classes with the goal of increasing engagement and awareness of the benefits of urban farming on campus.
In our Phase II Education endeavor, we will continue to provide education and research opportunities to students who are interested in learning about indoor urban farming. In the summer of 2019, we collaborated with Professor Gundula Proksch as part of the Global Sustainability Scholars tour in Seattle and partook in the panel discussion with student scholars. Most recently, we have been collaborating with Professor Eli Wheat and Professor Sean McDonald within the Program on the Environment. We will be featured in Dr. Wheat’s ENVIR 240 Urban Farm curriculum this spring and have plans to provide students with the opportunity to conduct a small research project for honors or independent study credit. Project IF will also be listed as an available project in Dr. McDonald’s senior capstone series this upcoming spring. In addition, we will continue to give tours of our farm to classes such as Professor Julie Johnson’s Climate Changed Urban Agriculture studio LARCH 501D and interested student groups. Similarly, we will be presenting in Dr. Yona Sipos’s NUTR 303 Neighborhood Nutrition class and providing in-depth farm tours to their two lab groups in the winter quarter.
We see Project IF as an interdisciplinary endeavor. From agriculture, environmental science, urban planning, and public policy to production planning and logistics, we welcome students from all majors and backgrounds. Our hope is that they can apply their passion to our farm. We would love to see our farm incorporated into the UW’s curriculum and serve as an opportunity for students to apply their learning to shaping the local food system, enriching their experiences at the UW, and ultimately promoting sustainability.
Another form of outreach and education is the relationships Project IF can create with like-minded local organizations. For example, our team has been in contact with Nathan Hale High School. We have reached out to Mr. Matt Davis in hopes of having the opportunity to speak to his students, and working together to expand their extensive urban farm to include an indoor growing unit.
Lastly, Project IF aims to participate in the U-District Farmer’s Market through Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets. Increased production capacity gives our team a means to hold a booth every week at the market and provide readily available, sustainable, local produce to the community. This would expand Project IF’s reach beyond the campus to the neighboring communities.
· Hardware Longevity
According to the manufacturer, there are two hardware components, the LED light and the submersible pump, that have a life expectancy of around 10 years. With such information, we don’t expect to run into any hardware longevity issues within our first five years (a very conservative estimation). However, since the light and water are so vital to the success of the indoor farm, we will monitor the equipment closely.
· Organizational Structure and Management Longevity
We structured Project IF to be a sustainable project with no expiration date. Financially, in 11 months, the operation will reach the cash flow breakeven point. In other words, Project IF will be able to start supporting its educational components, including research and outreach, with the net income (~$150K) generated annually. And in less than three years we can recover all the upfront capital investment ($250K). However, it is not our goal to continuously expand the operation to maximize the financial gain. Our goal is to strike a healthy balance between production (generating revenue) and education (creating impact). Once the balance stage is reached, we will keep the steady operation on both farming production and food education moving forward under the sustainable structure we envision.
Once the proposed Phase II is proven successful and stable for two years, we plan to start Phase III and reach out to other universities and/or organizations. We will work to transfer our experience to help them create their own version of Project IF in their community. This will be a slow process with many unpredictable challenges, but we are optimistic that the organic process of establishing the Phase II operation will open new doors of opportunity for us to pursue Phase III. We envision in Phase III, that UW Project IF will become an informational hub of sustainable urban agriculture and a platform that can provide opportunities to all different communities to join us to feed the world in a sustainable way.
Our vision of the Phase III operation inspires and encourages us to properly and thoroughly collect all the tangible data from both environmental and social impacts in the Phase II operation. Having the data on hand with a compelling story will be the key of success to our Phase III operation.
Project IF was founded in July 2018, and since its inception, has received a generous grant from the University of Washington Campus Sustainability Fund (UW CSF). This grant funding went towards successfully setting up the indoor farm in Condon Hall (~300 square feet), which includes a hydroponic system with 32 vertical growing towers and LED lights, a seedling rack with germination and seedling trays, and other equipment. Project IF was able to complete its initial Phase I objective to establish the infrastructure necessary to expand the farm’s output of produce. To date, we have grown over 150 lbs. of buttercrunch lettuce. Recently, we have also tested arugula, mint, and microgreens. In addition, we have had the opportunity to donate a large portion of our product to the local University District Food Bank, as well as donating some to the UW Student Veteran Lounge and engaging in outreach by attending local sustainability events.
For Phase II, we aim to create a sizable on-campus farm (~3000 square feet) to provide a supplemental amount of leafy greens and herbs to dining halls, food banks, and cafes on campus such as the Husky Grind and Cultivate. According to the UW Housing and Food Services, the UW main campus serves about 20,000 meals a day. There are more and more student movements, like Huskies for Food Justice, requesting UW to source more food locally. Sourcing food locally from Project IF can help to cut down food transportation costs and consumed packaging, be a secure stream of produce, improve quality and freshness, and overall reduce UW’s carbon footprint. With a larger space and more resources, we also hope to produce a wider range of leafy greens and herbs, from buttercrunch lettuce to arugula and mint. While more product would be grown, our hydroponic system offers a sustainable alternative to traditional farming methods to produce higher yields with fewer resources. Our goal with Phase II is to maximize the positive impact of indoor urban farming on the UW community.
Explain how the impacts will be measured:
Both the social and environmental impact are tightly connected to student involvement. Our measurable metrics are designed to capture both. The eight different metrics are listed below with how we intend to collect the data.
- Produce consumption. We will monitor the total amount of produce that is grown by students, sold on campus, and consumed by students and faculties. The average number of “food miles” an American meal travels from farm to plate is about 1500 miles. By tracking how much Project IF produce is consumed, we can reverse-calculate how many food miles we help to eliminate.
- Website and monthly news. We will track the growth of traffic on our website and the number of subscribers for the monthly newsletter.
- Social media. We will track our overall reach and engagement on each of our social media channels.
- Farm tour. We will track all the visitors to our farm tour and the IF certificate we give to those who partake any hands-on experience at our farm.
- Student volunteer program. We will track how many students volunteer at Project IF and their individual roles, achievements, and hours worked.
- Student staff. We will track how many student staff work at Project IF and their individual roles, achievement, and hours worked.
- Independent or capstone project. We will keep track of projects that are executed by students and measure the outcome and implementation of each finished project.
- Class collaboration. In addition to tracking class collaborations, we will capture the number of students that attend each section of a given class that Project IF is a part of. We will also highlight each collaboration in our monthly Project IF newsletter. Lastly, we will conduct a pre and post survey to better understand what students have learned with their involvement in Project IF.
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:
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