The Aqua Project continues to grow and improve at Lassonde Studios with a mission to provide healthier food options on campus. Visitors can see their new drip irrigation system on the first floor. The student group is growing lettuce, mustard, kale, and spinach in multiple locations in the building and harvests about 12 pounds of produce per month, enough to make about 75 salads.
At the start of 2019, former senior Dylan Wooton and current student Ian Lavin, created the Hydroponics Club, which runs the Aqua Project, at Lassonde Studios. Wooten studied biomedical engineering with a minor in computer science, and Lavin is majoring in electrical engineering with a minor in physics. Other students currently involved in the program include Luke Majors, a computer engineering major; Colin Pollard, an electrical/computer engineering major; Alli Schuh, a dance major; Elle-Rose Knudson, a mechanical engineering major; Issak Allaire-MacDonald, a mechanical engineering major; and Jacob Gonzalez, a mechanical engineering major.
Wooton and Lavin started the project because they “felt that there was a need on campus that needed to be addressed.” The need that they both noticed was that there weren’t enough healthy food options for low-income students at the University of Utah food pantry. They took it upon themselves to write a SCIF (Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund) grant, and the Aqua Project was born.
Before moving to ground level, the project was started on the Sustainability & Global Impact floor, second floor, of Lassonde Studios. Students living in the building can still see the original installment on there.
As the club grew, so did the techniques they employed. Each display uses a different technique. The technique used on the second floor is called deep water culture and Dutch bucket irrigation, whereas they use a drip irrigation system on the ground floor.
Essentially, the drip irrigation system works by having a reservoir of water at the base of the wall. The water is then pumped up into the side of the wall and is slowly dripped down throughout the numerous towers. Inside each of the towers is a material called growing matrix. This is where the plant roots grow throughout the irrigation process. The water drips through this material, nourishing the roots and is then sent back down to the bottom to be used again, and thus the cycle continues. Not only does this system save water, but it also provides you with healthier and tastier plants at the end of the growing period.
The duo was committed to growing the best possible produce they could, so they have many varieties. Some of these include lettuce, mustard, kale, and spinach. Each of these plants are currently thriving in the wall drip irrigation installations.
While this project was started at Lassonde Studios, any student on the University of Utah campus is welcome to join. They are always looking for new members to help continue the mission. The club hopes that one day produce served at the Peterson Heritage Center and elsewhere on campus will be grown sustainably at the University of Utah.