Farm and Fiber, $79,620 (2014)


Project goals:

Fresh Press, in collaboration with our partners at the Sustainable Student Farm (SSF) and the Woody Perennial Polyculture (WPP) site are aiming to grow student opportunities through our individual and collaborative research and public engagement efforts.  This proposal is focused on equipment acquisition, increased production and student employment to increase efficiency in the production and harvesting of agrifiber, converting bio-mass for integration to agricultural practice and development of fiber conversion to mitigate stock piled bio-mass from the SSF, WPP, and the adjacent bio-fuel plots.  

Hay Baling and Bale Chopping Equipment

There is a need by all three groups (SSF,WPP, and FP) for this equipment and will be used at the SSF and WPP. This baled pasture will allow the SSF to use the fiber for mulching long season crops (a critical and sustainable method for long season weed control); it will additionally allow for the collection and efficient storage of fiber for FP to make paper out of at a later date. 

The baled pasture fiber needs to be chopped and applied to vegetable beds with a Patz bale chopper/blower to make it an economically labor efficient operation for the SSF. The normal method is to apply it by hand, but this is constrained by labor costs. This bale chopper will also allow the FP to more efficiently reduce various wastes fibers down to a small size for more effective papermaking. 

The possibility of making biomass pellets for future sustainable heat sources at the SSF will also be helped by the presence of a bale chopper. There is current dialog with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) to pursue future collaboration in bio char activities. 

Increase Perennial Crop Production

These crops include asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, small bramble, bush fruit, and dedicated perennial herb production. This increased production will result in direct revenue for the SSF. 

Expanded Cold Storage Infrastructure

Increasing cold storage at the SSF will allow for increased storage crop production and harvest  (such as carrots, onions, etc.) in the fall, then storage all winter in cold storage for sale to campus dining hall units. This will also greatly expand the volume of sales and season of sale to campus dining units, thus increasing revenue generation and moving the SSF very close to the financial break-even point for the project. 

Paid student workforce

Critical to a model of sustainability is the equity in compensation for students committed to continued contribution toward the success of these projects. While each project provides volunteer opportunities, a consistent reliance on trained individuals is integral to the transfer of knowledge for incoming volunteers. These students provide leadership rolls in the facilitation of volunteers, train in proper procedures and operation of equipment. These students often take the lead in community engagement activities and provide links to opportunities in undergraduate research. While each project is looking subsidize student employment through generated revenue, the necessary scale-up in production will allow for additional revenue gains making this ideal a reality. 


Project results:

The funds were very useful for us to continue to improve the capacity at the farm with the purchase of the bailer/hay rake and shredder/blower. Furthermore this equipment and the added student workforce made it easier for Fresh Press to receive biomass from the Student Farm in bails ready to be shredded. We also improved the walk-in cooler increasing the life span of the produce. 

Finally, with the funding we were able to create an annual Field Day at the farm promoting all the good work Fresh Press, the Farm, and SSC does on campus with food, vendors, tours, and music.