“These are the best tomatoes I’ve had since home,” says Merjem Mededovic (BME 3rd year), reaching for a cluster of tiny crimson spheres dangling from a blossom-studded tomato plant in UFarmIIT. Growing up in urban Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, she looked forward to weekends when she could work in her grandfather’s garden on the outskirts of the city. “As a biomedical engineering student, I appreciate the importance of being active and eating right, and also helping Earth. Farming touches so many points that are part of a sustainable life.”
For the past six years, Illinois Tech students have worked a 5,000-square-foot space comprising UFarmIIT, an urban farm located in The Quad on Mies Campus. UFarmIIT began as a project of a landscape architecture elective in 2012, led by Rodger Cooley, an adjunct assistant professor of architecture in the landscape architecture program who also works in urban food system planning and policy. The project grew into a collaboration with both the student group Engineers for a Sustainable World and a first-year architecture studio course, in which students designed and installed the multipurpose fence. In 2013 UFarmIIT became an Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program course, with spinoffs including an aquaponics research project on campus. Today UFarmIIT is an official student group, and the farm itself has evolved to become a test bed for sustainable urban farming with a tech edge.
Beginning last year, Illinois Tech’s Wanger Institute for Sustainable Energy Research (WISER) began to invest in the technology infrastructure of UFarmIIT, aiding students in acquiring solar panels and controllers that have enabled the farm to operate completely off the grid.
“The goal is to provide a valuable, practical experience for Illinois Tech students,” says Hamid Arastoopour, director of WISER. “The challenge is to develop a completely automated, remotely controlled farm that uses renewable energy, creates no waste, minimizes water consumption, and provides safe and reliable food products. In doing so, the farm will serve as an economically feasible carbon-removal process for urban areas.”
UFarmIIT: How It Works
From Pipe to Plant
Two separate pipes carrying water and wiring are buried in trenches spanning the length of the beds.
A new team of Illinois Tech faculty from WISER, the Institute for Food Safety and Health, Armour College of Engineering, the College of Architecture, College of Science, and Stuart School of Business has developed large proposals to conduct research that includes both expansion of the current UFarmIIT and creation of indoor vertical farming at Illinois Tech.
Hamid Arastoopour says Illinois Tech plans to develop rigorous outreach activities to educate people from surrounding and outlying neighborhoods about urban farming and the potential to produce food sufficient to meet the needs of the people, and, in turn, bring jobs, economic growth, and safety to the community.