students in greenhouse
Image: OwlCrowd

Most people shop at farmers markets for local tomatoes or squash. Brett Riley (ME) found his team’s senior design project: an opportunity to restore a community greenhouse damaged by vandalism.

“We originally wanted to build our own greenhouse,” Riley said, in describing the team’s focus on sustainability. “But after talking to the farm manager, seeing that the greenhouse was in rough shape from being vandalized, we thought this was a good use of our skills.”

Since, the team has designed technologies that are aimed at giving the farm more control of the humidity and other factors, pushing them from a three-season farm to four seasons, expanding their ability to provide healthy food for the community. 

“We came up with the designs to the systems,” Gianna Makler (CE) said. “Brett and Kamila Florczak (ME) worked on ventilation, insulation and solar power. Our teammate Maryam (CE) and I did the drip irrigation and rain water catchment system designs.” 

“We produce about 4,000 lbs. of food throughout the growing season, in the greenhouse and the adjacent field,” added Marta Lynch, Farm Manager and Educator with Federation of Neighborhood Centers, the greenhouse operators. 

That’s a much-needed potential boost to a community lacking a supermarket within walking distance. 

“If you look at this area, it’s a food desert. What this place does is provide fresh, affordable and nutritious and locally grown food,” Lynch said, adding that her organization also works with the neighboring recreation center to provide food for after school programs throughout the year. 

And according to a recent Food Trust report and the USDA found that 25 to 30 million Americans—about nine percent of the country—live in communities that do not provide adequate access to healthy food retailers within a reasonable distance from their home. 

“It feels like we’re actually making something, because we are,” Makler (CE) said. “It’s not just conceptual.” 

See the team during Senior Design Presentation Day on April 27, and follow our complete Senior Design coverage on social media with #TUSeniorDesign2018.