Two vertical garden towers have been built in the Multi Activity Courtyard of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Recreation Center, the result of a collaboration under the Edible Campus Program between a variety of organizations including the Associated Student’s Department of Public Worms and UCSB Sustainability.
The Edible Campus Program seeks to increase the food available to lower income students and produce the food in an environmentally-friendly fashion. It achieves the former by donating its projects’ produce to the Associated Students Food Bank and the latter by undertaking environmentally-conscious projects, such as the Vertical Towers.
According to Sasha Kurkcuoglu, who built and maintains the towers, “each tower can hold forty-four plants.” Across the surface of the tower are pockets of developing produce from a variety of species. Kurkcuoglu listed watermelon, squash, and peppers as being among the produce currently being grown.
Additionally, Kurkcuoglu mentioned how the tower was resource efficient. ”They use a hydroponic system. What this means is that water is carried up through the tower and then cascades down.” Essentially, water is recycled. Because it operates in a self-contained unit, water does not flow freely across the ground and so every drop is used up by the plants. The free-growing nature of the plants within the tower ensures that no soil needs to be used, as the plants’ roots come in direct contact with the water.
The whole design is very simple. Water is generated by plugging the mechanism into an electrical outlet and the entire tower, when empty, is man-portable. Kurkcuoglu said that the most time intensive part was actually acquiring the necessary permits to build them near the MAC. “This produce here will actually be ready for harvest in about a month,” he explained.
The majority of the food is expected to supplement what stock the Campus Food Bank has. Even then, the vertical towers are only part of a longer initiative.
According to Katie Maynard, the event manager and sustainability coordinator for the Edible Campus Program, the vertical towers are just part two of an ambitious yet realistic plan. “The first part of our project was our Urban Orchard Program. At Storke Plaza we have seven citrus trees that are growing there. The Vertical Gardens was our second project, launched just this month. The third of our projects will be our student farm.”
The student farm Katie mentions would be a cooperative garden. Built near the West Campus Family Housing facility, the proposed student garden will also be easily accessible by students from the new San Joaquin dorms and faculty housing. Maynard was enthusiastic about all the incoming campus traffic.
“We think this is a very central part to where folks live, and we think it’ll be very successful for people,” she said.
The farm is envisioned not only as an important asset in the fight to end food insecurity on campus, but also an important focal point for student activity.
“It’s community based, in that it’s going to be relying on a large numbers of volunteers to make this happen,” said Maynard. Unlike other campus greenhouses where families tend to a single plot, the student garden has a more cooperative outlook in mind.
“A lot of low-income students, they don’t have the time to be able to manage the entire plot. They may not have grown up gardening so the idea of having to manage an entire plot yourself and taking full responsibility for that can be a little intimidating,” Maynard continued.
“Here, students can come out, they can volunteer for an hour or two hours. They can take a leadership role, they can do anything they want from very small amounts of volunteering to a lot of volunteering.”