The proposed growing dome at Knox may be replaced by a less expensive option in order to address budget constraints while still increasing the college’s local food production, students behind the initial proposal said.
Members of the Knox Food Coalition, the group that originally gathered signatures and presented the idea to Student Senate during winter term 2012, believe that a high tunnel would be a better use of the available resources.
“Instead of starting big, we need to start with something that is smaller and maybe less impressive but that can be managed and well-maintained and be more impressive because of that,” post-baccalaureate fellow and KFC member Elizabeth Cockrell ’12 said.
Whereas food can be grown in a growing dome year-round, a high tunnel, which is a semicircular wire structure with plastic stretched over the top, warms the ground underneath and enables crops to be maintained through the winter. This option would lengthen the growing season by about two months.
A total of $40,000 from the Senate restricted fund was originally allocated for the growing dome project. Research done after the fact, however, indicated that this would not be enough to both construct the dome and pay workers to construct and maintain it.
Initially, the KFC had hoped that it could sell produce to Dining Services in order to help cover some of the costs. Yet running the grow dome like a business would have required expertise that the students working on the project did not have.
“I don’t think it was in the reach of something that a student could’ve done, especially students who haven’t maybe taken as many business or economics classes,” junior and KFC member Nora McGinn said. “This [the high tunnel] is more what this group of students can do.”
With the $40,000, the college will be able to both purchase the high tunnel and pay a student worker for at least a year. After that, McGinn believes the worker’s salary could come from the Student Sustainability Fund, as is currently done for workers in the Knox Community Garden.
The KFC was given roughly a year to reformulate their proposal. With the overall goal of increasing local food production at Knox, the group researched what other Associated Colleges of the Midwest institutions were doing. At Monmouth College, for instance, students living in the Garden House feed themselves with food they have grown and give leftover food to the cafeteria.
“In our area, there’s so much going on, but Knox … hasn’t really stepped up in the way that some of those other schools have and responded in an institutional manner,” Cockrell said.
Newly appointed Sustainability Coordinator Shawn Tubb was also brought into the project in order to ensure that, while being student-driven, it retained administrative oversight.
If Senate approves the high tunnel proposal, which Cockrell hopes will happen by the beginning of spring term, it will likely not become reality until the winter or spring of 2014. The current plan is to place the high tunnel behind the Human Rights Center and move it periodically so as not to overuse the soil.
Because anyone with growing experience can use the high tunnel, Tubb and the KFC hope that it can be integrated into more classes and serve as an educational opportunity for Knox students.
“You have more opportunities for classes to be more involved in something because it’s not just a plot for the Urban Agriculture class,” Cockrell said. “This is Knox’s high tunnel, so it belongs to all of us as a community.”
The high tunnel would also help increase the availability of local food. Despite scoring well in national rankings on items like trayless dining, reusable to-go containers and vegan options, Knox’s Dining Services only buys 3 percent of its food locally.
“Unlike some of the other schools who are depending on these large national companies to help them get local food, we would actually be creating the food ourselves, which is much more sustainable, and we could actually know that it was local and organic,” Tubb said.