Last spring Knox aimed to rev up their sustainability with the purchase of a high tunnel greenhouse. Now, with the aid of a grant and a space in the process of construction, two high tunnels are set to start producing for Knox next spring.
The road toward the purchase of a high tunnel started two years ago. A group of students involved with the sustainability fee were interested in building a growing dome, including current Senate Sustainability Chair Nora McGinn was one of them.
“Two years ago, me and a group of other students were very interested in increasing the amount of growing infrastructure on campus,” McGinn explained.
However, the steep cost of the growing dome at $39,362 and incomplete budgeting axed the idea.
A year later, a new proposal was placed on the table: high tunnels. “The next year we looked into infrastructure that was maybe not quite as expensive and not as intensive,” McGinn said.
This time, they prepared a much better proposal. With the high tunnel totaling at a little over $13,000, the group could take the $39,000 already allotted toward the project and spread it over three years.
“There was a plan put together by [former Sustainability Coordinator] Shawn [Tubb] and the students that addressed how the money would be utilized both on the purchase of the tunnel to the cost of building it to maintaining it,” Director of Facilities Scott Maust said.
In the secondary proposal, the money spread much longer and the budget totals to $39,360.06.
Tubb’s sudden departure leaves some loose ends for the project. Tubb was positioned to lead the student workers on the high tunnel. Interim Sustainability Coordinator Paul Skrade is his replacement for the meantime, but a new long-term coordinator may not arrive until spring term. However, a student will be selected in the new year as student manager of the tunnel.
The second tunnel is the product of a grant Associate Professor and Chair of Environment Studies Peter Schwartzman was awarded through the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association. This secondary high tunnel is expressly for educational purposes.
The student tunnel is 30 by 100 feet is size and called the Production Tunnel. The smaller Education Tunnel is 30 by 60 feet. The tunnels will be located together between the Pi Beta Phi House and the Human Rights Center.
“If everything goes as planned we want to have it erected and done by Thanksgiving. Of course, that’s weather driven,” Maust said. The land is in the process of being leveled, and electricity and water lines are being put in place. To meet city code, four feet of concrete will need to be poured where the ground stakes will be placed. The ground stakes will be set two feet into the concrete every three feet. Once the ground stakes are in place and rich black dirt put down, the plastic coverings can be put over the top.
Local food producer Jim Stanley of Knoxville is heavily involved in helping Knox put up the two high tunnels. Stanley has his own high tunnel on his property, Blue Ribbon Farms. Knox College contacted him for assistance and he was glad to help.
“One of my daughters went to Knox a couple of years ago. I thought it was a worthy idea,” Stanley said. “I’ve noticed through my selling produce at the farmer’s market that more and more Knox students are showing interest.”
There are multiple groups interested in what the high tunnel has to offer. The Green Fee who put the proposal together, along with KARES, Knox-Galesburg Garden and the Knox Food Coalition, have shown interest in Knox-grown produce.
“I think that it’s going to give the students an extremely beneficial learning experience,” Maust said. “It’s a good way for students to know where their food is coming from.”
“We can increase production [so] that we can have food in our caf [that is] fresher food, healthier food and certainly more environmentally friendly food,” she said, “It will help get more students get involved in growing and being active on campus which I think is a huge plus.”
Stanley is hoping to assemble a group of students in the next few weeks to help place the large plastic covers over the high tunnels before winter weather hits and students head home.