Columbia starts hydro farming

By Katy Nielsen

Columbia is pushing for more green spaces this year, and the next project includes windowfarms and the possibility of an outdoor garden.

Lena Milcarek, senior marketing communication major, presented her video about urban farming at Chicago’s GreenTown Conference 2010. The problem with farming in Chicago is the climate, Milcarek said.

“Windowfarming is the answer to growing food in the winter,” she said.

Windowfarms use recycled materials and grow produce hydroponically from sunlight that filters through windows. This means they require a constant trickle of water, generated by a pump on a timer that periodically circulates liquid nutrients through a column of plants in a closed loop that reuses the water.

“The system itself is pretty self-sustaining,” Milcarek said. “Basically, the only thing you need to watch is [that] the drip is going down from the top.”

A variety of fruits and vegetables can be grown with this system.

“You can have cherry tomatoes, peppers, leafy greens, herbs and small fruit,” Milcarek said. “Basically, if you grow your own food, you’re eliminating those extra miles and that carbon footprint.”

Student organization Environmental Protection Initiative at Columbia is involved with The Windowfarm Project and has a bigger mission. Next semester, Columbia will have an established windowfarm in the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

Joe Leamanczyk, project manager in the Office of Campus Environment, said it brings awareness about sustainability.

The Office of Campus Environment received a proposal to plant a garden in the lot formerly occupied by Buddy Guy’s Legends—a half-acre of land on the northwest corner of 8th Street and Wabash Avenue.

“The details still need to be worked out a little, and the student group [EPIC] is working on that,” Leamanczyk said. “We’re just waiting on a follow-up proposal.”

According to Leamanczyk, the plan fits with Columbia’s sustainability mission.

Neale Baldyga, recycling outreach coordinator for Columbia’s Facilities and Operations, is faculty adviser for EPIC.

“It’s still in the idea phase, it’s a very new thing,” Baldyga said. “What we need now is [approval] from the higher-ups, and hopefully this spring it will start.”

Katelyn Carlson, senior cultural studies major, submitted the proposal.

“Over the summer it occurred to me there is this whole local food movement … and Columbia should be part of that,” Carlson said. “Our art is directly related to our surrounding communities, and this would be a really good way to incorporate that.”

Carlson said she is currently working on a more in-depth proposal, which includes fruits and vegetables she would plant.

There is a chance Columbia can use a spigot from a neighboring car lot or rain barrels, Baldyga said. Columbia students and staff in the Office of Residence Life could help maintain the garden, which requires dirt, wood, storage gardening tools, rain barrels and a fence.

“I think it would take more time than money,” Baldyga said. “I think it would be very affordable to start.”

Baldyga said one question is if the garden should have a security guard or a locked gate, and there is a possibility the college will use half the lot for bike parking.

Ultimately, the hope is it could be a blueprint for maintaining an urban garden, Baldyga said. So far the idea is receiving widespread support.  Members of EPIC have collected more than 10 pages of student signatures in favor of planting the garden.

“I think it’s almost a necessity at a school that’s as progressive as us,” Baldyga said. “We have the capabilities.”

A meeting titled “The Rise of the Fresh Food Movement” will take place on Nov. 29 from 1 – 3 p.m. at the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., room 407. Join students, faculty and community members in a discussion.