The purpose of the Sustainable Food and Energy Solutions project is to promote student solutions in bioenergy, composting, and local food production. In this project, students in the Food Entrepreneurship and Next Energy Engineering classes will collaborate to start a composting program that makes use of the food waste from the food course and school store, and use that compost for both bioreactor projects as well as growth of local vegetables and herbs in a vertical garden tower. Next Energy students will learn to calculate ideal carbon to nitrogen ratios for composting, optimize methane production as a biofuel from a small portion of the compost, and how to balance energy production with urban agricultural methods. Food Entrepreneurship students will learn how to reduce waste and incorporate locally-grown herbs and vegetables into their innovative food products. Both classes will be responsible for maintaining the compost within the garden tower, and will use this project as an opportunity to educate their peers on the energy and nutritional opportunities composting provides. In addition, all students will gain a greater understanding of the energy costs of transporting food vs. growing locally, food waste reduction, and container gardening. This project was funded through a Conservation Education Mini-Grant by the Richland County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Planting and establishing vermiculture
Students in both classes selected seeds to plant in vertical container mid-November. After seedlings were established, the worm farm was transferred to the center of the tower, where they can move in and out of a central composting location.
Calculating optimal carbon:nitrogen ratios for methane production
Next Energy students learned to calculate an ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio for optimizing methane production from compost. When finished collecting methane, the compost was added to the vermiculture for the worms to continue breaking down.
Generating electricity from Microbial Fuel Cells
Using the natural production of microwatts from soil bacteria (Geobacter and Shewanella species), Next Energy students created and optimized fuel cells that harnessed the natural power of microbes found in compost.
Harvesting the produce and extending lessons learned to community partners
We have had great success with kale, cilantro, onions, and sugar peas, all of which have been used in the Food Entrepreneurship class. As a result of participating in the Sustainable Food and Energy Project, one Next Energy student chose to build a community garden for Richland Library Sandhills as his Eagle Scout project. We are beginning to see tomato blossoms and fruit, and the container garden attracts several pollinators to the cilantro flowers.