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Seed money

%5CErnie+Somoza%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AThe+University+of+Arizona+Green+Fund+has+allowed+for++projects+like+UA+Community+Garden+to+be+funded.+%0A%0A%0A
Ernie Somoza
\Ernie Somoza/ Arizona Daily Wildcat The University of Arizona Green Fund has allowed for projects like UA Community Garden to be funded.

Each year, $24 of every student’s tuition contributes to the student-run Green Fund, which finances projects aimed at making the UA campus more sustainable. This year, 10 students will decide where each year’s $400,000 will go. In 2011, the first Green Fund committee was able to distribute $700,000 to 20 projects. Here’s a snapshot of three of them:

Project: Technologies for Enhancing Food Production, Resource Use Efficiencies and Environmental Friendliness

Funds received: $137,900

Department: Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering–Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC)

Just in case you thought greenhouse agriculture couldn’t get any greener, the Green Fund gave money to the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center to build a more sustainable greenhouse by combining solar power with conventional energy sources.

The objective is to create an off-grid greenhouse system that will be affordable and easy to establish for small to medium-sized growers.

The system will improve resource efficiency by using solar panels to power the greenhouse’s cooling, irrigation and climate control, said Murat Kacira, the principal investigator for the project and an associate professor in the Department of Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering.

A set-up like this can be used in many ways, from supplying fast, fresh food to places that have been hit by natural disasters, to providing an alternative for growers living in harsh climates, to giving military operations in remote locations a steady food supply at a low cost.

“There is a huge interest for fresh food, safe food and local food production, especially in urban settings. So this can be an alternative system for those who are considering such applications,” Kacira said. “That’s, I think, the most attractive part of this project.”

The project also offers opportunities for student involvement and research, he added.

With the funding, the project has built two high tunnel greenhouses, structures that are unheated and covered in plastic, where the center will conduct its research. These buildings are flanked by several rows of solar panels. So far, they have installed enough solar panels to provide 5 kilowatts of power, but once the project is completed at the end of the month, they will be able to produce an additional 25 kilowatts. All the solar panels were given to the project by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in an in-kind donation valued at $30,000, according to Kacira.

Tomatoes will be the first crops grown in the project because they can tolerate stressful climates and produce a canopy of vines that help cool their surroundings, Kacira said. In a couple of weeks, cherry tomato seedlings will be settling into their new homes inside the greenhouses.

Project: UA Community Garden

Funding received: $16,300

Department: Associated Students of the University of Arizona

The UA Community Garden project has seen so much growth since its inception in 2010 that the project is running out of plant beds to rent out to the UA community, according to Natalie Lucas, the co-director of Students for Sustainability.

With money from the Green Fund, students involved in the UA community garden created plant beds, installed irrigation systems and built a shed for garden tools. They have about $2,000 left over from the funding that they plan to “use sparingly” to buy more tools and supplies as needed, Lucas said.

“I’m just really excited,” said Lucas, a junior studying environmental science and philosophy, politics, economics and law. “A year ago, it (the garden) was just a bunch of dirt.”

Now, the UA Community Garden, which sits on UA-donated land north of Highland Avenue Parking Garage, has been divided into 45 plots measuring 20 feet by 3 feet. Students, community and faculty can rent the plots for a fee of up to $70 per year. All of the faculty spaces have been reserved, and only three student plots and four community plots remain, Lucas said.

The project intends to connect students, faculty and members of the community with each other and with the food they consume. Much of the food found in grocery stores come from hundreds, even thousands of miles away, according to Lucas. Having a community garden allows people to grow their own food right in their own backyards, she said.

Members of the UA Community Garden are requesting money from the Green Fund this year in order to setup a fence around the garden, construct a ramada and put up a sign for the garden at the site, Lucas added. Their goal is to create a place where people can go to escape Tucson’s “concrete jungle” and learn about sustainability.

“Tucson is huge and you don’t know the people around you, so this gives people a way to connect with each other and connect with nature.”

The UA Community Garden will hold its official opening ceremony on March 26 at noon.

Project: Sustainability Condoms

Funding received: $900

Department: Civil and Environmental Engineering

One UA alumnus used the Green Fund to give sustainability a little more sex appeal.

In an attempt to raise awareness about energy consumption, Travis Borrillo-Hutter, who graduated last May in environmental sciences, distributed 1,000 Durex condoms throughout the UA campus on Earth Day 2011.

Borrillo-Hutter used the money he received from the Green Fund to create packages for the condoms that were made of 100 percent recycled paper and promoted sustainable electricity use, he said. Statements like “in the spark of the moment, kill the lights” were featured on the front and back of the packets. On the inside were corresponding facts like, “LED lights do not contain lead or mercury as found in fluorescent bulbs.”

Campus Health Service donated the condoms that Borrillo-Hutter packaged. The condom packages cost about $760 and another $70 was spent on an “Earth Day sustainability condom poster,” according to an itemized budget that was included in Borrillo-Hutter’s original proposal to the Green Fund.

Another component of the project was a feedback survey that offered students a gift card to the UofA Bookstore if completed. The project allotted $30 to print the survey. However, not many students responded, Borrillo-Hutter said, so it was difficult to gauge whether or not the project improved students’ awareness of energy consumption.

Still, after about two hours of handing out the condoms on the UA Mall, Borrillo-Hutter had given all of them away, he said.

“As soon as 11 rolled around they were almost instantly gone,” Borrillo-Hutter said. “Most students don’t have an interest in sustainability. So we said ‘here’s a condom and here’s some information to come with it.’”

Check the Daily Wildcat tomorrow for continued coverage.

If you go

El Portal, Saguaro Room
Today, 5 – 8 p.m.
The Green Fund committee will reveal which of the 34 projects proposed this year it’s decided to fund.

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