While the white and green shipping container outside of Cate Center may appear to be an unassuming storage space, it is actually a new and innovative sustainability effort. Brought to campus by OU Housing and Food, the freight car houses a compact vertical farm, called the Leafy Green Machine, that will grow local produce for OU’s restaurants.
Windeon McDowell, adviser of the Leafy Green Machine, said OU students have been interested in locally sourced food for a while. “Students across campus have been conscious about where our food comes from. They’ve been very vocal about wanting local food,” said McDowell.
OU Housing and Food found a way to make this student vision a reality by bringing a pre-assembled hydroponic farm to campus. Built entirely inside a shipping container, the Leafy Green Machine uses innovative climate technology and vertical towers to provide space for over 4,500 plants. The compact farm will be a source for local kale, spinach, chard, and arugula. Restaurants in Cate Center will be able to serve the produce harvested from the Leafy Green Machine.
Since it’s installment, OU Housing and Food has asked the student organization, OUr Earth, to mobilize student volunteers to maintain the farm. “Housing and Food really empowered us to make the Freight Farm a student-led initiative,” said Allyson Wiley, President of OUr Earth. OUr Earth is responsible for organizing student volunteers. The organization oversees planting seedlings, harvesting crops, and cleaning the farm.
Students also get to choose what to plant. They are currently growing kale, spinach, chard, and arugula. Restaurants in Cate Center will be able to serve the produce harvested from the Leafy Green Machine at their restaurants.
“There are not a whole lot of places doing what Freight Farm is doing,” said McDowell. OU is one of six universities in the country to bring a Freight Farm to campus and the first university in the Big 12 to do so. “It demonstrates an amount of commitment that Housing and Food has not only for the students, but also for the community,” said McDowell.
If the farm goes well, there’s a possibility OU will bring more Freight Farms to OU, allowing more access to locally grown produce “It really is a stepping stone for more sustainability efforts on campus,” said Allyson. “Whether it’s another Freight Farm or more recycling, it shows that OU cares about green initiatives,” she said.
Students, faculty, and staff celebrated the grand opening of the Leafy Green Machine Wednesday, Nov. 9 at Cate Social Lounge by sampling produce grown and harvested from the Freight Farm. Allyson hopes the grand opening will raise awareness and encourage students to get involved with the effort to keep locally sourced produce on campus.