At the Controlled Environment Agriculture Student Association, University of Arizona students manage their own student greenhouse, grow and sell crops — all without the help of soil, using a method called hydroponic farming.
What is hydroponics?
The club is described as “all things hydroponic” by CEASA president, Christopher Kaufmann, who is a senior majoring in biosystems engineering. Hydroponics is a method of farming where plants are grown without soil and replaced by a water-based nutrient solution.
This is a more sustainable option than other agricultural methods, as it eliminates the use of pesticides, uses less water and can grow in less space.
“Hydroponics uses up to 90% less water than soil-grown crops, so we can grow year-round,” Phil Bryden, greenhouse manager of CEASA and a junior majoring in sustainable plant systems, said. “A majority of our water usage actually goes to cooling the greenhouses, which is still substantially less than what it takes to water the crops in a field in Arizona.”
Selling produce at the Wildcat Country Market
This semester, CEASA is interested in the business side of controlled environment agriculture, according to CEASA Vice President Katie Clontz, who is a senior majoring in agricultural technology management and education.
“We’re focusing on innovation within our greenhouse. So creating different systems, figuring out different types of produce than what you might traditionally see in a hydroponic greenhouse,” Clontz said. “And then, we’re kind of developing a way to go through and start marketing and selling that produce in a farmer’s market.”
In the past, they have sold their crops at the UA Agricultural Center’s Wildcat Country Market. Due to the coronavirus, they only began selling produce for half of the last academic year, beginning in February. This was due to CEASA activities being restricted with Zoom meetings and only one person initially being allowed in the greenhouse at a time, said Kaufmann.
This fall semester, they have not yet started selling at the market, but aim to do so Oct. 22.
Outside of the greenhouse
Other than working in the greenhouse, CEASA members have had seminars, workshops and field trips related to controlled environment agriculture in the past. This year, some anticipated events are a tour of Biosphere 2, industry tours of larger greenhouses and guest speakers who are working on the Mars Lunar Greenhouse.
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