Hoop houses are about to get a lot cooler at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland. And that’s not just because winter is coming. The problem is exactly the thing that makes them work: Keeping sunshine and warm air inside to extend the growing season can actually make the hoop houses too hot, causing the produce to suffer. That’s a big deal on a farm that supplies produce to not just the urban campus but also to several restaurants in the area.
“The only time we have a problem is the summer,” says Lilian Velez, a sophomore civil engineering major from Wisconsin who is part of CWRU’s Humanitarian Design Corps. “The outside temperatures in this area only get as high as maybe the high 80s, but in hoop houses, that’s 120 to 130 degrees. Even though the point is to extend the growing season, sometimes it gets too warm. We consider summer from late April to October, so this problem does affect us more than half of the year.”
This essentially creates the problem of waste—the hoop houses aren’t reaching their full potential, therefore wasting resources.
The hoop houses and CWRU’s dining services are provided by Bon Appetit, which this year is celebrating a decade of its Fellowship Program, which offers fellowships to recent college grads who were sustainability champions on their Bon Appetit-served campuses.
To mark the milestone, student groups were invited to apply for the Student Activist Grants contest. Applications poured in from around the country, and Bon Appetit CEO Fedele Bauccio read them all.
“We need things to inspire and give us hope these days,” Bauccio said in a statement. “Reading these applications reminded me and everyone else at Bon Appetit involved with this contest that small, concrete actions by bright young people can have potentially big payoff in making our food system more sustainable and just.
CWRU students in the Humanitarian Design Corps were among the 20 projects selected to receive $1,000 to improve food sustainability on campus. Other projects that won grants range from setting up a campus garden, waste prevention and reduction, food insecurity, and food literacy, advocation and education.
CWRU’s entry was among the most high-tech of the group.
The students at CWRU proposed a solar-powered system that would sense too-high temperatures and automatically turn on fans in the hoop house. Part of the plan includes an app that would act as a manual switch for the fans.
Minji Kwon, another member of the Humanitarian Design Corps, is a civil engineering and environmental studies major from Boston in her last semester at CWRU. As the Corp’s VP of local projects, Kwon had been focusing more on one-day projects and community service before getting involved with this grant project.
“We thought we really should have a dedicated local project so we can contribute our resources and our engineering to the local community,” Kwon says.
This winter, the hoop house project will get underway with students working on calculations and the app, and if all goes as planned, by the summer of 2020, the fans will be whirring and the houses will be used to their full potential.
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