In late August, a former shipping container made its way onto campus.
Inside the green and white vehicle were rows upon rows of tiny circles, some filled with what looks like dirt and some growing little buds of green matter. Air-conditioned and cool, purple and pink lights shone as if a rave could breakout at any second. This container is Stony Brook’s latest addition to sustainability on campus, a freight farm, or “The Leafy Green Machine” as some call it, and it is here to change campus dining.
The freight farm is allowing students to grow and manage vegetables hydroponically for the first time behind Roth Café. When the plants are ready within 10 weeks at most, they will be delivered to the different dining halls on campus – a huge change for the way students consume on campus while also helping to save the planet.
Managed by David Schmitz, or “Farmer Dave,” and two Stony Brook students, the farm just began harvesting two types of lettuce earlier this month.
“We can grow basically anything we want hydroponically,” Farmer Dave said. “So we’re gonna have a meeting once every semester with the students and decide what we want to grow.”
Hydroponic farming is a way of growing crops that are pesticide and herbicide free. Using 90 percent less water, the farm is set to grow over 2,000 heads of lettuce this harvest inside the 4-by-8-foot long trailer. They are grown in mesh rather than dirt and can be adjusted with the simplicity of a smartphone app.
“They’re both artisan. They’re both really high grade lettuces,” Farmer Dave said. “One’s a green bib lettuce and the other’s a red oak leaf lettuce. They’re going to be dynamite when they finally come out.”
“We’re gonna be on a growing rotation and we hope to switch out the kinds of things we’re growing about every semester,” he said. “I have my eye on some kale and some things we can utilize at all the cafeterias.”
The freight farm will grow anything that it wants due to the flexibility in temperature and season. If the farmers want to grow something that would usually be found in extremely humid and hot temperatures in the middle of January, the Leafy Green Machine will allow that. When the different crops are grown, students will be able to walk the grown plants to any dining hall on campus – completely cutting the carbon footprint left while using trucks to deliver outsourced food.
“There’s a germination period, you get the seedling and then everything has to grow,” Farmer Dave said. “We can grow twelve months a year and we can make it, if we want, we can have the daylight be longer or shorter. We can change the temperature to be warmer or colder.”
But little do students know that growing hydroponically on campus – even the simplest things like lettuce – is a huge innovation and will benefit students in more ways than they would normally think.
By growing close to home, the planet will get a little greener. Students will savor the freshly grown products on campus and ultimately they will feel better knowing that what they are consuming is free of any bad chemicals that other farms use on their crops.
“It’s homegrown, organic, pesticide free lettuce for students on campus,” Lauren Weisburg, a freshman environmental studies major, said. “It’s healthier for us, it’s healthier for the planet. That sounds great.”
With time and some hope, the freight farm can grow even more. If the university decides that the health of its students and the wellness of the planet are worth the investment, another freight farm may be added. The possibilities are endless.
James O’Connor, Director of Sustainability and Transportation, said that the freight farm is something the university is welcoming with excitement.
“It is sustainable it has minimal impact on the natural environment,” he said. “It’s something we’re very proud to try out here at Stony Brook.”