We will conduct research into climate resilience at the nexus of food, water and energy within the microcosm of Dominica, a small island developing state as a case study.
Inpartnership with UVA startup Babylon Micro-farms, led by Alex Olesen ’18, weare developing and testing a prototype of an automated, solar powered rapidrollout hydroponic system. This system has a unique opportunity to be appliedto areas globally that may be affected by climate change, devastated byhurricanes or are not able to sustainably grow food. In the coming year, wewill evaluate the potential application of the hydroponic system on the islandof Dominica. This island presentsan ideal case study, as a microcosm of an independent developing state relianton imports of food and traditional energy and water systems in the immediateaftermath of climate change related disasters such as hurricane Maria onSeptember 18 2017.
Since 2016, SE@UVA has offered a Global Field Experiencecourse in Dominica each spring to study social enterprises in small developingstates; but inthe aftermathofMaria, a Category 5 hurricane whichdevastated the island’sproductive sectorand infrastructure in the fall of 2017, Professor Bevin Etienne andSocial Entrepreneurship at UVA formed the Climate Resilience Lab, and hiredstudent fellows to assist in researching long-term solutions.
The focus of our research is on how a smallisland developing state could become climate resilient through sustainableagriculture and energy solutions, and how these social enterprises could buildeconomic opportunity by equipping residents with the tools they need to supplythe tourism industry with locally grown food. We intend to take our research on this test caseto create a sustainable food production and livelihood system that can serve asa replicable model for climate resilience.
Together with faculty partners bringing expertise inengineering, food policy, nutrition, and social enterprise, we will test thehydroponic systems across several variables to evaluate its potential toimprove climate resilience, growing efficiency, nutrient and caloric output,diversity of crops produced locally, water usage, energy usage, and work andtime investment required. We will test the system indoors, outdoors, and in agreenhouse/hoophouse setting. We will test a model useful for individualresident farmers, as well as a system designed for a hotel, two differentpossible customer bases, both here in Charlottesville and then on site inDominica.
In the fall of 2018, we will develop and test two hydroponicsystems: a traditional, indoor model suitable for a hotel, which will beimplemented and evaluated on site at the Boar’s Head Inn; and a smaller, solarpowered rapid rollout collapsible version, which will be tested on site atMorven Farm.
In November 2018, we will travel to Dominica to buildrelationships with other potential experimental sites in Dominica, includingboth an indoor hotel and an outdoor farm. We will also meet withrepresentatives from CARICOM to discuss conducting the test in other Caribbeanisland nations.
In Spring 2019, we will use the results of our tests to finetune our prototype models and test in a variety of additional locations. Wewill reach out to local nonprofit organizations such as New Roots CommunityFarm, City Schoolyard Gardens, and the International Rescue Committee, to seewhether they would like to be among these locations, so we can also begin toevaluate the potential impact on food security for residents.
In Summer 2019, we will leverage our preliminary researchresults to apply for funding through the NSF Innovation at the Nexus of Food,Energy, and Water (INFEWS) program to expand our research to other crops and amore detailed understanding of the requirements for optimal production inindoor and outdoor environments. We will also develop a University-wide,three-course curriculum in “Sustainability and Human Development” that providesa theoretical foundation for this research and for students intending toparticipate in the Global Field Experience courses.
This project originated as a collaboration between facultyand students, and we will continue to engage student fellows in the researchwho have an interest in sustainability, engineering, and food systems.
Together with professors Anna Maria Siega-Riz, from theSchool of Nursing, and Paul Freedman, from the College of Arts and Sciences, wewill also partner with Morven Farm and the new First Lady’s Food Lab to engagestudents interested in sustainable agriculture. Professors Siega-Riz andFreedman have been deeply engaged in sustainability and food issues on grounds,through leadership of the Sustainable Food Systems Task Force, in advising theNitrogen Project, and in teaching the Morven Summer Institute courses.
The Engineering School will engage students in the EngineeringSystems & the Environment capstone senior design program through ayear-long project to test the efficiency of the equipment itself in variousimplementations, recording data on water, energy and nutrient input required,and developing machine learning and other algorithms to improve the efficiencyof the production controller system.
Social Entrepreneurship at UVA and the Climate ResilienceLab will continue to engage students interested in micro-enterprise,sustainable development and public policy in partnership with student CIO, “NetImpact.” Last spring, student fellows from Net Impact worked to prepare forlast May’s Global Field Experience in Dominica by conducting advance researchinto areas of opportunity for growth and resilience within different sectors onthe island; and several of these students went on to participate in the courseand conduct research on site. We will continue to engage students from “NetImpact” to work with us on identifying relationships and opportunities on theground in Dominica.
We will fund travel stipends to support travel to Dominicaduring the SE@UVA Global Field Experience program in May 2019, to allowstudents to participate for whom the financial obligations would present anundue burden.
The founder of BabylonMicro-farms, Alex Olesen, developed the concept for his hydroponic systems as anSE@UVA student at UVA, and went on to secure startup funding, participate inthe i.Lab incubator program, and locate his business here in Charlottesville.The core of the business is patented nutrient dosing technology that isdesigned to work with pre-seeded consumables that allow for quality controlwhile simplifying the user experience. This technology is simple to use andaffordable and has significant potential to increase access to advancedsustainable agricultural practices. It is a versatile platform that has greatpotential for student engagement, research, and social impact. This can be testedwith a range of customers from individual farms up to small commercialoperations to understand the capabilities of deploying such a technology andits ability to positively impact the lives of the end users. BabylonMicro-Farms social mission makes it an ideal research partner to explore thepotential of sustainable hydroponic agriculture. Utilizing Babylon’s patentedtechnology we can explore the potential to create real world self-sustainingmicro-enterprises in developing countries where conditions do not allow forconventional agriculture. He is expected to continue on as a student at UVA inthe future, entering a PhD program in fall 2019; but during this year, he isemployed part-time on this research project. While he is not a studentcurrently, his startup business employs multiple UVA students as well.