BY MADDIE LUEBKE
A group of students dedicated to bringing fresh produce to campus has been awarded the competitive Millenium Fellowship. The Millennium Fellowship is a leadership development program developed by the Millennium Campus Netowrk (MCN) and United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI). The Big Box Farm group was selected as one of only 30 student groups to particpate from an applicant pool of 285 campuses across 57 different countries.
The group will install an aquaponics unit to produce fresh vegetables and raise fish on campus. The purpose of running this unit is to do research on sustainable agricultural production methods and gather information for scaling up to a full-size, indoor growing operation known as an urban farm.
They presented at Michigan State University on Sept. 6 at the Regional Economic Innovation Summit, where they were the youngest group of presenters at the conference.
At this event, many Alma students spoke and presented their idea. Their presentation covered how they became a non-profit organization–Highland 365, Inc.–after receiving a grant from MSU to start the project.
The Millennium Fellowship will provide this group of students on campus with the leadership training and skills that they need to turn the Big Box Farm vision into a tangible community organization.
“Our large-scale plan is to introduce a year -round fresh produce organization on campus,” said Maliena Boone (’19).
“This is a goal that will take a while to plan, so momentarily we are setting up a trial run aquaponics system [in] which we [will] plant our own veggies this semester.”
The group branded themselves as Big Box Farm because part of the goal is to house these sustainable farming operations in empty, closed-down warehouse style buildings, such as the abandoned K-Mart building downtown.
They are currently working directly with the UNAI and MCN to get this project off the ground.
“The U.N. is giving us leadership training and potential networks to help us continue to move forward with the project,” said Jaycee Wise (’19).
Many faculty members have been helping this group of students with the project, including: Edward Lorenz, former professor of History and Director of the Public Affaris Institute; Murray Borrello, professor of environmental studies; Sarah Neumann, professor of Biology; and Janie Diels, professor of Communication and New Media Studies.
“Our main advisor is Dr. Lorenz,” explained Boone. “He has helped tremendously with organizing, event management, and getting us in contact with the right people. We are grateful for how much his knowledge of the Alma community has helped us progress.”
By the end of fall semester, they plan to have completed comprehensive research on aquaponics methods compared to traditional farming methods and the foundation of public health research related to nutrition outside of campus and in the greater Alma Community.
The Big Box Farm can be located online on Facebook or at their webpage– bigboxfarm.wixsite.com/bigboxfarm