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UA rooftop greenhouse helps feed students in need

Students grow tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers
Posted at 10:39 AM, Nov 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-30 17:48:56-05

TUCSON, Ariz. - Students at the University of Arizona are making sure other students don't grow hungry, by growing fresh produce on the roof of the Student Union.

It's the first student-run rooftop greenhouse with the capacity for year-round food production in the nation.

The idea of growing fruits and vegetables on the roof of the UA started almost two years ago. Todd Millay, the senior director of the Student Union, noticed the Campus Pantry was lacking fresh produce.

So the seed was planted, and construction of a temperature-controlled rooftop greenhouse began.

The 800-square foot greenhouse grows produce at about 10 times the rate of a soil-based garden, according to Millay. The plants get nutrients from two large tanks of solution, and anything that's not absorbed is recirculated back into the tanks.

Millay estimates the greenhouse can produce 3,000 pounds of mini cucumbers, 1,000 pounds of slicing tomatoes, 2,000 pounds of cherry tomatoes, and 400-600 pounds of bell peppers annually.

"This is very much student-driven, both from the vision and the beginning, the work and what this is today, was a student concept that we just helped bring to life," Millay said.

All of the fresh, right off the vine produce is taken to the Campus Pantry, providing nutritious food for about 500 students each week.

Senior Natalynn Masters, who works at the Campus Pantry, says the need continues to grow, especially as the holiday season approaches.

"Throughout the semester each week, we're kind of seeing a consistent number of more students coming in, every single week," Masters said.

Millay hopes to expand the greenhouse to also grow lettuce, and other core fruits and vegetables.

Anyone with a UA Cat Card can access the Campus Pantry.