Project IF - Phase II

Project Size: Large, >$1,000
Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $150,000

Letter of Intent:

Summary:

Project Indoor Farm (IF) consists of a team of students and community members aiming to create a more sustainable campus food system through indoor urban farming. In 2018, with a generous grant from the University of Washington Campus Sustainability Fund, we began work on Phase I, a feasibility study. Most of the grant funding went towards successfully setting up the indoor farm in Condon Hall, which included a hydroponic system with 32 vertical growing towers and LED lights, a seedling rack with germination and seedling trays, and other equipment. In addition, the feasibility study has thus far produced operation protocols, a formal website (https://projectifuw.wixsite.com/projectif) with social media platforms (https://www.instagram.com/projectifuw/) (https://www.facebook.com/projectifuw/), a user-instruction software called Aquarium (https://www.aquarium.bio), and over 130 lbs. of buttercrunch lettuce. We have had the opportunity to donate a large portion of our product to the local University District Food Bank and have engaged in outreach by attending local sustainability events. In recent months, we have had the privilege of meeting with students and faculty members, and provided tours of our farm to different classes with the goal of increasing engagement and awareness of the benefits of urban farming on campus. As we are completing our Phase I feasibility study, we are preparing for the Phase II of the development of Project IF. For Phase II, our project will have two primary elements: Production and Education.

Sustainable Impact:

For Phase II, we aim to create a sizable on-campus farm to provide a supplemental amount of leafy greens and herbs to dining halls, cafes, such as the Husky Grind and Cultivate, and food banks on campus. According to the UW Housing and Food Services, the UW main campus serves about 20,000 meals a day. Sourcing food locally from Project IF would cut down food transportation costs, consumed packaging, be a secure stream of produce, improve quality and freshness, with the overall goal of reducing 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 to 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.  

Education, Outreach, and Behavior Change: 

Our Phase II Education component will focus on providing education and research opportunities to students who are interested in learning about indoor urban farming. Most recently, we have been collaborating with Professor Eli Wheat and Professor Sean McDonald within the Program of 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/independent study credit. Project IF will also be listed as an available project in Dr. McDonald’s senior capstone series this upcoming spring. We will also continue giving tours of our farm to classes such as Professor Julie Johnson’s Climate Changed Urban Agriculture studio LARCH 501D, and on a more informal basis to interested students.

We see Project IF as an intersection of many disciplines. From agriculture and environmental science, to urban planning and public policy, to production planning and logistics, we welcome students from all majors. Our goal is to help students to apply their passion to our indoor farm. We are excited to see our indoor farm project incorporated into UW’s curriculum and be an opportunity for students to apply what they are learning to shape their own local food system, enrich their experience at UW, and ultimately promote sustainability.

Leadership & Student Involvement:

Our farm is well equipped with personnel to complete this project. Currently, we have 10 undergraduate students, two postdocs, and three external volunteers. Students have primarily been recruited from UW’s CoMotion’s Start-up Career Fairs in 2018 and 2019. Our group is divided into three teams: business, operations, and outreach. Kurt Kung, a Postdoc in BioEngineering, leads the business team. Zach Schneeweis, an external volunteer, heads the operations team. Katie Smith, another external volunteer, oversees the outreach team. 

The vision is to pass down the farm’s responsibilities to students and have the farm be student-led, with minimal consultation and oversight from a permanent staff. To our knowledge, this would establish the first indoor urban farm at a university that is run by students.

Feasibility & Accountability:

Currently, Project IF has received support from undergraduate/graduate students, professors and administrators within the College of Environment, College of Built Environment, College of Engineering, UW Farm, UW CSF, and UW Facilities. As aforementioned, we have plans to become a class-accredited lab for students, provide guest lectures/tours, and give our produce to local establishments. We have also created relationships with companies such as Anything Aquaponics’ (http://anythingaquaponics.com/about/) founder Seth Connell, a large proponent of Project IF. We have also collaborated with ZipGrow, a manufacturer of hydroponic equipment and were even featured on their social media platforms(https://www.facebook.com/pg/BrightAgrotech/posts/?ref=page_internal). We have also worked with the Seattle Seeds Company, Upstart University, and GrowGeneration in sourcing seeds, educational materials, and growing equipment. 

We have a grand vision of developing a sizable farm and using this space to create opportunities for the UW community. Based on Phase I of Project IF, we estimate that we will require more than $300K to achieve our goals. More specifically, we request a third ($100K) of the total funding from CSF. Given that our farm is dependent on grants, we plan to apply the fund-matching strategy, and if awarded, hope to leverage this money to other parties, such as HFS and/or the USDA.

As Project IF continues to grow, we ultimately hope the UW community can enjoy fresh greens, help strengthen UW’s role as a leader of environmental sustainability, and act as a natural platform for the advocacy of food sustainability.

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Kurt Kung