An apple a day, freshly picked on the way to class from the Big Orange Orchard. This is the vision of Neil Brown, a senior in chemical engineering, and UT alumnus Chris Weller: a series of self-sustaining gardens across campus providing low-maintenance, edible additions to campus.
Hoping to begin planting by next fall, Weller and Brown have been working to meet with landscape architecture professors, the Office of Sustainability and other authorities for feedback on current plans. Once finalized, the project must be approved by Facilities Services."We've been putting it together," Weller said. "This week, we met with a couple landscape architectural professors on the Ag campus about getting some plans drawn up as far as actual designs go. Today, we met with the sustainability manager of the university as getting their office's support in this for a grant writing aspect."
In addition to administrators, students, too, are invited to contribute to planning and implementation."
We've been trying to get a survey together for students," Weller said. "We've gotten a lot of feedback from faculty and different offices, but we've only talked to our friends as students, and we've only got so many friends."
Started in January 2013, the Big Orange Orchard initiative has given way to other ideas, such as an expansion to Project V.E.G.G.I.E.'s current garden along and more accessible locations like Pedestrian Walkway.
"We can do it so that all the products of the different trees and things are used in the dining halls," Weller said. "It could be so that students could literally pick from them as they walk by. We played with the idea of maybe saying that every building had a few plants near it so that each building would have its own special area."
In contrast with Project V.E.G.G.I.E.'s current planting system, Brown and Weller hope to create a more self-sustainable garden.
"As it's progressed, Project V.E.G.G.I.E.'s ideal system has played into it very heavily," Brown said. "The difference between permaculture and what we do right now is that V.E.G.G.I.E. focuses on annual planting: things that die and have to be replanted. "Permaculture planting is focused more on perennial plants that grow for many, many years without dying."
To fund the Big Orange Orchard, Brown and Weller are applying for various grants including the Ford College Community Challenge and a spot at the Clinton Global Institute at Arizona State University. Additionally, Brown and Weller are seeking an allocation from the existing student "green fee," a component of university fees. Distributed on a semester-by-semester basis, this fee is intended to fund projects like the introduction of permaculture. Should the plan succeed at UT, Weller and Brown envision similar gardening throughout the community. "The original idea was to stretch this from downtown Knoxville and get the entire community involved so you could eventually have plots on campus and downtown and in Fort Sanders, so it would be like a giant fruit trifecta," Weller said. "These three places are all within walking distance of each other, so it makes it kind of perfect."
Chad Hellwinkel, a research assistant professor at the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, studies permaculture and its implementation.
"Permaculture has to do with total system design," Hellwinkel said. "So, a complete 'permaculture campus' would involve components like building design, heating and cooling systems, water sources, waste water, food production, waste food, soil health. A true permaculture design would integrate the wastes of one component into the needs of another, so that there is zero pollution. No garbage, no waste water, etc." However, Hellwinkel acknowledged the difficulties posed by such changes, despite enormous benefits.
"There would be food production close to need, raises (in) the food-consciousness of students, (it) provides opportunities for students to garden, which has positive physical and mental impacts and education 'classrooms' for professors and students in many disciplines to study, increases (in) long-term food security by planting long-living fruit, nut and berry crops, (it) improves student health, (it's) aesthetically pleasing, (it) improves soil infiltration and reduces storm run-off and wildlife benefits," Hellwinkel said.
If converted to an "edible campus," UT would be one of largest schools in the nation to hold this title.
"I think it would be good for the university as well because this would be one of the first schools that would have done this ever," Brown said. "For a school as big as UT, it would be even more amazing and astounding that we could pull it off."