Student Senate has approved the high tunnel growing infrastructure proposal, which is intended to provide interdisciplinary educational opportunities and make Knox a desirable destination for prospective students.
Post-baccalaureate fellow Elizabeth Cockrell ’12 made a presentation to Senate on April 18, describing the benefits of approving the $39,360.06 Special Meeting on the Use of the Restricted Fund proposal.
“It makes us competitive, which is one of the main concerns I know Knox has right now … being competitive with other institutions of similar size in this area,” Cockrell said.
The college could get a leg up on other institutions in the area by expanding educational opportunities in the field of sustainability and locally-based agriculture.
“If you just look at the other schools in the ACM, there are a couple schools who are behind usthere’s nothing on their website É some individual classes are being taught, but there’s not a focus,” Cockrell said.
Knox does not want to fall behind in sustainability either.
“A lot of schools are doing a lot more than us. St. Olaf has its own organic garden that student workers farm É even Monmouth has a pretty large garden, they’ve got beehives É and they have done their garden as an educational garden, which is kind of the model that we’re looking at for this garden as well,” Cockrell said.
One of the issues with the growing dome proposal submitted last year is that while it accounted for the cost of the structure itself, which Cockrell described as a “statement piece,” it did not factor in the costs of labor and miscellaneous growing materials.
“Basically we only had the actual structure itself [accounted for]. We didn’t have any irrigation system worked out, we didn’t have any labor, we didn’t have any seeds … we were kind of at a loss of where to come up with those funds,” Cockrell said.
Cockrell also stressed that the updated proposal has a long-term focus and incorporates the costs associated with sustaining the operation. Local farmers with comparable high tunnel structures were contacted to estimate costs relative to labor and materials.
“So we’re thinking long term and trying to make this as effective and well-run a project as we possibly can,” Cockrell said.
The reduced cost of the high tunnel as compared to the growing dome allows for the operation to be sustained for three years, while costing less on the whole. Funds for the project beyond the three-year mark will come from several potential sources.
Educational gardens, according to Cockrell and Student Senate Treasurer junior Shelly Bhanot, are prime targets in terms of seeking support in the form of grants. Additionally, Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer expressed interest in purchasing the produce grown in the high tunnel.
“We wanted a space that was open to experimentation throughout all of your classes, but also have a place where food that we were growing could transition to the cafeteria. We’ve been working with Helmut to figure out what he would be using É so he knows what we’re doing and is really supportive of improving our local food infrastructure through growing it on campus,” Cockrell said.
Mayer, who was present at the meeting, said that as the project progresses, he would look into investing in a flash freezer so that produce harvested during the summer could be preserved without harming the vegetables.
While the produce will find its way to the cafeteria, the project will remain educational in nature and not production-focused.
“Educational gardens are eligible for grants, but also because if you just have a garden focused on production, you’re limiting that to just the people who are interested in the growing É but if you have an educational garden that’s open to interdisciplinary study, somebody from any class could incorporate the garden,” Cockrell said.
The structure will be purchased from a supplier in Iowa, according to Cockrell, who plans on holding a campus-wide event this spring to raise the structure.