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Deep Soil ~ Clean Food ~ Engaged Campus

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A Different Kind of Fish Farming

The University Farm explores an experimental aquaponics system to grow vegetables and save water on and beyond the Domain.

In the fall of 2016, Sewanee found itself in the clutches of one of the worst droughts the region had ever seen. Classified by the U.S. Drought Monitor as severe, the drought meant that soils at the University Farm suffered for lack of rain. “I was running my irrigation water all the time, just trying to keep plants that are in the field alive,” says University Farm Manager Carolyn Hoagland.

Fortunately, there was already a solution in the works. Hoagland had experimented with aquaponics for environmental sustainability at the farm before the drought arrived. And now, a little more than a year after the drought, the system has been refined in ways that could extend its use well beyond the Domain. The project, already involving Sewanee students and faculty members, stands to expand to surrounding counties, particularly to farmers looking for a greener alternative to traditional farming.

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This is not your grandparents' farm.


Microgreen Thumb

One student’s novel research project explores a new growing strategy on the University Farm.

A bright spring day finds Brigid Lanigan next to the old University Dairy building near Lake Cheston, where a new 95-foot-long high-tunnel greenhouse was erected earlier this year. She crouches down and uses a pair of scissors to carefully cut rows of tiny plants that have been growing in an adjacent smaller greenhouse, which was built for her capstone research project. These tiny plants are “microgreens”—in this case soft red winter wheat and Austrian winter pea. Microgreens are grown and harvested in less than three weeks and can be cultivated from a variety of plants. They are used primarily in salads, soups, and juices. In a few days, once the clippings have dried, they will be weighed and sent to a lab to be tested for nutrient content.

A senior environment and sustainability major, Lanigan has an interest in soils and how they transfer nutrients to plants. While exploring soil-related topics for her capstone research project, she learned about “biochar,” a form of charcoal that is used to improve soil. Her advisor, Assistant Professor Russell Fielding, connected her with Sewanee’s farm manager, Carolyn Hoagland, who has a master’s degree in soil and crop science, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in microbial ecology. Hoagland and Lanigan devised a novel study to test the effects of applying biochar to soils used to grow microgreens.

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