You would think that an organic farm is sustainable and environmentally friendly – just because it’s an organic farm.
But, farming, it turns out, has many challenges when trying to increase sustainability and pursue net-zero energy and water footprints.
For the past several years, teams of engineering, architecture, and construction management students have been working with students and faculty across campus on the smartFARM project, aimed at creating a sustainable organic farm that incorporates smart design and engineering for food and energy production.
WSU’s organic farm, located about 1.5 miles from the main Pullman campus and operated through the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, got underway in 2003, becoming a certified organic farm in 2004. In 2006, WSU began offering the first organic agriculture major in the U.S.
The organic farm and its agriculture program has grown since then. In addition to providing continuing teaching and research, the organic agriculture program now includes Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which allows community members to buy shares and receive produce from the farm, as well as weekly attendance at the Pullman Farmer’s Market. Food from the farm gets donated to local food banks, and about 1,000 people visit each season. Plans call for expanding the farm to eventually include animals.
At the WSU organic farm, students have developed designs for functional spaces, including a community center with offices, a commercial kitchen, teaching facilities, a student residence, an aquaponic greenhouse, hoophouses, and a livestock barn that will minimize energy and water use. The project also works to integrate organic methods of pest control and plant and animal management. The real-life project will be incorporated with WSU’s capital planning.
Because of expected future expansion of the Pullman Regional Airport as well as the growth of the organics program, a new and larger property for the farm was recently acquired.
Laurie Mooney, a landscape architecture graduate student, has developed a master plan for the new property, currently located on 17.3 acres off Animal Sciences Road, with an expansion potential of 30 acres. Students from Engineers Without Borders are developing an alternative energy test site on the farm, installing a wind turbine and solar panels.
Graduate students under the direction of the Integrated Design Experience (IDeX) and the Integrated Design Lab (IDL) in the Institute for Sustainable Designhave developed designs for a community center, a multi-student caretaker residence, and a passive greenhouse on the site. The proposed community center building will include a kitchen for cooking classes and serve as the pickup point for the CSA members.
A group of architecture and engineering students also designed a residence for the site that would be able to accommodate up to six organic agriculture students that work on the farm.
In partnership with faculty and students in the organic agriculture program, graduate architecture and engineering students have also collaborated on a design for a passive aquaponics greenhouse. Aquaponics combines aquaculture, or raising fish, with hydroponics, growing plants in water, in a sustainable food system. The challenging project aims to create a net zero energy solution for the site, says Todd Beyreuther, an instructor for IDeX, Director of the IDL, and Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Design and Construction.
“Greenhouses use a lot of energy and a lot of water,” he says.
The greenhouse will use ground source pipes and solar thermal panels to heat the building and fish tanks. The fish will be raised in the greenhouse, allowing their waste to be used as nutrients for plants.
“It’s an integrated system that not only addresses energy and water needs, but also closes nutrient loops for the plants,” he says. “The greenhouse and fields will incorporate hundreds of sensors to monitor temperature, moisture, nutrients, and greenhouse gases to visualize and optimize the systems.”
The students will build the prototype greenhouse this summer.
Preparing the next generation of engineers and architects to respond to global scale concerns such as ecology, water, energy, and food requires new models of integrated design education and research.
The WSU Institute for Sustainable Design has developed an integrated design teaching and research model that provides a continuum from the classroom to the lab and ultimately the built environment.
Key entities along this continuum that bring together students and faculty of disparate disciplines in partnership with corporate, nonprofit, and government stakeholders are the Integrated Design Experience (teaching) and the Integrated Design Lab (research).
The Integrated Design Experience (IDeX) is a teaching studio that serves as a student and faculty innovation think tank to address large scale, complex problems. IDeX unites undergraduate and graduate level students of design (architecture, landscape architecture, interior design), engineering (civil, mechanical, electrical, computer science), construction management, bio-regional planning, business, and organic agriculture to collaborate on real-world, community stakeholder sponsored, and professional practice mentored sustainability design projects.
The Integrated Design Lab (IDL)manages built environment research projects developed by WSU student and faculty researchers to advance and optimize the design of specific buildings, landscapes, and systems (energy, water, and food). Some projects, such as the WSU smartFARM, begin in the IDeX studio and continue as spin-off research.