The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a four-year, $1 million grant to the interdisciplinary EverGreen project at Texas State University.
A joint project of the Ingram School of Engineering and Department of Agriculture, EverGreen’s goal is to find innovative solutions for the global food-water-energy nexus while simultaneously increasing the number of Hispanic students with advanced technical degrees at the food-water-energy intersection. EverGreen will grow food quickly, economically in a climate-controlled environment―in this case a very large shipping container―with 90 percent less water. Engineering will integrate the technology on the container unit with sensors that will monitor conditions from the inside and relay information via an app.
“In this project we intend to develop a model, then experimentally test what types of conditions and locations an off-grid, soil free agricultural system – that also utilizes renewable resources -- can be financially viable,” said EverGreen Principal Investigator Bahram Asiabanpour, Ingram School of Engineering. “The affecting factors in such a model are related to energy, water, environment, market, and other costs such as labor price, land price, construction costs, and cost of capital.”
Asiabanpour’s team includes co-PI Ken Mix (agriculture) and co-PI Nicole Wagner (agriculture), along with collaborators Semih Aslan (Ingram School of Engineering), Hamed Ghoddusi (Stevens Institute of Technology), Steven Lewis (San Antonio College) and Ty Chumbley (Palo Alto College). They are building an innovative facility along with updated curricula. This will enable students to learn how to understand the highly interdisciplinary STEM-Agriculture concepts of food production, conduct research and develop the technical, innovation and leadership skill to address the food challenges of the 21st century.
“One goal of this project is to model this system in different parts of the world, including the United States” said Wagner. “For example, in places that are drought-stricken or have increasingly severe weather patterns—or are located in the middle of an urban food desert. Can one of these systems sustain vegetables that wouldn’t be able to be grown outdoors given unfavorable growing conditions or where healthy soil isn’t available? We are investigating the financial feasibility of such systems, especially given increasing consumer demand for local and sustainably-grown food in Texas and nationally.”
Grant funding will provide scholarships for Texas State students, as well as students recruited from Palo Alto and San Antonio Colleges to seamlessly transition into and complete degrees at Texas State. Forty-four Hispanic students will receive personalized support through mentorships, tutoring, and professional development, as well as financial assistance through scholarships and paid internships. Through the collective attainment of associate, bachelor and master of science degrees, students will be prepared to enter positions in well-paid, technical jobs in agricultural-related fields. This will result in a diverse future workforce with the leadership and cross-disciplinary skills in science, technology and innovation to solve today’s complex agricultural problems – specifically those due to a changing climate, widespread food insecurity and the lack of available water.
“The whole team is very excited about this project,” Asiabanpour said. “This is one of those rare opportunities that you love it, the world needs it and it is aligned with your expertise.”
About Texas State University
Founded in 1899, Texas State University is among the largest universities in Texas with an enrollment of 38,849 students on campuses in San Marcos and Round Rock. Texas State’s 170,000-plus alumni are a powerful force in serving the economic workforce needs of Texas and throughout the world. Designated an Emerging Research University by the State of Texas, Texas State is classified under “Doctoral Universities: Higher Research Activity,” the second-highest designation for research institutions under the Carnegie classification system.