Slideshow: U Farm IIT

By Marcia Faye

U Farm IIT
On a hardscrabble patch of land between the Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority house and the Triangle fraternity house—where even grass has a tough time growing—a lush and fertile project showcasing a variety of green life is rising.

With its roots in a student initiative through the IIT chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World to establish a campus community garden, U Farm IIT has germinated into an Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program course. Headed by Rodger Cooley, adjunct professor of landscape architecture, the project has formed partnerships with several on-campus and external groups.

All Photos by Bonnie Robinson

Boxes of Abundance
Emily Hommerding (PHYS 4th year), Jason Bandy (ARCH 5th year), and John Wachowski, IIT field operation and warehouse supervisor, discuss the late summer condition of the farm, which consists of a series of handcrafted growing boxes filled with soil donated by Christy Webber Landscapes and Lake Street Landscape Supply this first year.

“Were going to produce the wood chips onsite, grinding up downed tree limbs from the campus,” says Wachowski, about future plans. “Using the chips for U Farm IIT will make it a self-sustaining application.”

Seeds and Leaves
Architecture faculty members Paul Pettigrew and Kathleen Nagle coordinated the efforts of first-year studio students in building the farm’s artistic enclosure. A pair of students designed and built each panel of the fence. Some students worked with resin, casting seeds and leaves into their panel for a natural element.

Student-Styled Stained Glass
Another pair of architecture students drilled holes in PVC piping and inserted colored recycled bottles to generate a stained glass effect.

Pleasing Placards
Architecture students also constructed wood placards identifying the plants, which include scarlet Nantes carrots, Hopi blue corn, bush beans, Swiss chard, and Detroit red beets. The nonprofit organization and land trust Growing Power provided U Farm IIT with many of the seeds and the compost. A sense of community runs strong throughout U Farm IIT.

“U Farm IIT is another way for our campus to interact with our neighbors in Bronzeville, Bridgeport, Chinatown, and Pilsen,” says Vice President of Community Affairs and Outreach Programs Leroy Kennedy. “Our student population reflects the various communities we engage with—further exemplifying IIT as an evolving microcosm of opportunity.”

Sunflower Surprise
A wild-volunteer sunflower plant, which grew out of the compost, provides a colorful contrast to the surrounding produce.

Summertime Treats
A yellow-fleshed watermelon is ripe for the picking.

Salsa, Anyone?
Tomatillos resemble bright-green miniature pumpkins concealed in their papery husks.

Watering the Chard
Heather Bickerton (BIOL 4th year), who helped to build the produce beds, waters Swiss chard on a late summer day.

“My parents back home in Blackburn, England, do a lot of gardening for themselves, so when I saw the IPRO, I was intrigued and wanted to help out,” she says. “Now that I’ve been involved in this project, if an opportunity comes up to further my knowledge in this area, I would definitely take it.”

Bicycle Among the Blooms
A student’s bicycle looks right at home in the green environment of U Farm IIT. Peter Osler, director of IIT’s Landscape Architecture Program, says that the project has potential to expand in many directions—research, public outreach, and providing healthy food to the local community. For this first season, it has provided a sense of wonder.

“The IIT landscape is seen and not necessarily experienced,” he says. “The farm offers an opportunity for people to actually engage with the landscape—to get their hands dirty, and to smell, taste, and touch things. It’s a great way to make connections with nature.”