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US (CO): Aeroponic garden provides students with fresh greens

A new aeroponic garden in the Village Center Dining and Community Commons is the first in the nation to provide students, staff and faculty with fresh salad greens grown on site in a high-tech greenhouse attached to a dining hall.

The “air garden” will help the university reduce its carbon footprint, cut energy costs and eliminate the need for harvesting, cleaning, packing and transporting food from outside farms.

The greenhouse in CU Boulder’s Village Center Dining and Community Commons occupies nearly 3,000 south-facing square feet and consists of 137 grow towers able to produce 44 plants each without soil.

“Locally grown food just tastes better,” said Farm Manager Alex Macmillan, a horticulturalist and organic farmer who will oversee the greenhouse and its production schedule.

Macmillan and student-assistants will start by growing romaine lettuce and other vegetables in stages to ensure a continuous supply of fresh greens.

The inaugural harvest in March produced 15 pounds of kale, 10 pounds of all-star lettuce and 10 pounds of arugula that dining hall employees served to students, staff and faculty.

The aeroponic system at CU Boulder relies on water and “soilless media” to provide nutrients to plants, allowing them to grow faster and produce greater yields on average.

Vertical farming allows for better space usage and efficiency, and automated operations help maintain optimal sunlight, shade, temperature and humidity levels, creating the best year-round growing conditions.

Sensors will monitor conditions to prevent fans, lights and other equipment from running unnecessarily when natural sunlight and other conditions are sufficient.

“I’m excited to get growing and hope this new greenhouse inspires people to be informed about where their food comes from,” Macmillan said. “It’s not grown by someone you’ve never met on some faraway farm with unknown farming practices. It’s me, right here, and you can literally see how I’m growing your food.”

Source: University of Colorado Boulder

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