by Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office
Nearly half of the earth’s usable land is designated for human agriculture which means food consumption significantly impacts our planet. According to a comprehensive study published in Science last year, our current relationship to consuming and producing food is not sustainable for the health of the land, water, or global climate. The current food supply chain is responsible for 26% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention other direct impacts to the natural ecosystems of our earth, its water systems, and its wildlife. The study suggests that moving to a non-animal diet could reduce land use by 76% and greenhouse gas emissions by 49%. The study also notes that the United States consumes meat at three times the global average, making our impacts and potential for affecting change even greater as food consumers with choices. But as a study published this year points out, not all consumers impact the environment equally, suggesting that broad shifts in food consumption will also have to include an understanding of the socioecological barriers some face in improving our cuisine consequences on the climate. In any case, all data points to a need for significant changes to our food systems.
Fortunately, there are multiple opportunities to get involved with shifting to a more sustainable food culture on campus. One example is the Hydroponics Club which officially formed last year as a spin-off of Engineers Without Borders. The club’s president, Ian Lavin, is an engineering student who is passionate about growing fresh produce in new and innovative ways. The club is currently utilizing two hydroponic systems, a deep-water system and a Dutch bucket system, to grow leafy greens and tomatoes, each system lending different benefits for different plants. The water use of the systems is relatively low (10-15 gallons per 5-week growing cycle, in comparison modern toilets require about 1.6 gallons per flush), no land is required to grow the produce, and because the growing environment is controlled (indoors) there are no pesticides required and the production is more dependable. According to Lavin, food in a hydroponic system also grows 25-30% faster than conventional growing methods. Hydroponic growing systems have great potential for addressing some of the world’s food production problems. “By staggering the growing cycles, you can achieve a steady stream of fresh produce year-round,” he says. In addition to exploring hydroponics as a sustainable food production method, the club also recognizes the lack of access to fresh, nutritious foods that some populations face and chooses to donate much of the produce grown to the food pantry on campus.
Last year, the Hydroponics Club applied for a SCIF grant and a space in the Lassonde building to build four hydroponic drip walls that utilize vertical space to grow greens, called the Aqua Project. The first wall will be finished by October and installed in the Lassonde lobby in the coming months. If you’re interested in joining, Lavin says anyone with a passion for produce or growing systems is welcome.
The Hydroponics Club isn’t the only option to engage with sustainable food systems on campus, the Sustainability Office works closely with 5 other food clubs that are building a new food culture in our community:
Edible Campus Gardens
Click the link above to be added to the weekly newsletter detailing upcoming events and volunteer activities.
Slow Food U of U
The Slow Food Student Chapter addresses issues of food justice, access, local food systems and more. E-mail Slowfoodatuofu@gmail.com to request to be added to their e-mail list.
Real Food Challenge
The Real Food Challenge student group works with University Dining Services and administration to build relationships with local producers and shift our institution’s food purchases toward more real food. Fill out a Volunteer Interest Form through the Bennion Center.
Food Recovery Network
The Food Recovery Network is the largest student movement fighting food waste and hunger in America. Click the link above to see how you can get involved with the U’s chapter.
Feed U Pantry
The University of Utah’s food pantry aims to minimize hunger among students, their families, and faculty and staff by providing free, accessible, and nutritious food. Click here to fill out a volunteer form.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.