Summer 2019 – 497-246: IIT UFarm Technology Integration for Sustainable Development

Meeting Day/Time
Session B (6/3 to 7/27) on Mondays/Wednesdays from 1:50 to 4:15 pm
Blake Davis (INTM) ( in consultation with Hamid Arastoopour (ChBE & WISER) ( and Margaret Murphy (WISER) )
Appropriate Majors
All interested students are welcome.

The overall purpose of this IPRO project is to explore innovative solutions to UFarmIIT issues based on a sustainable water strategy (rain collection and efficient irrigation) and utilizing solar energy where possible.  These systems are partially constructed and need to be tied into the UFarm monitoring and control systems.

The specific objectives and tasks of this IPRO project are:

1) Completing the plumbing and wiring for the rainwater collection system.  Installing embedded sensors and tying the water collection into the UFarm remote monitoring and control system.

2) Wiring up the last remaining pieces of the solar electric system for the farm.

3) Preparing the greenhouse for summer planting.  This will include installing gates in the fencing system and cultivating the soil in the greenhouse beds.

4)  Installing the plastic glazing on the UFarm hoop house and preparing it for a late summer dedication ceremony.

5) Planting flowers and vegetables for late summer and fall harvest.


There are many problems in the current agricultural process throughout the world, but they all may point to a single major question: Where does our food come from?  Most produce in U.S. grocery stores comes from farms in California, Florida or other areas with similar climates. A large percentage of that produce is grown using methods to maximize profit at the expense of relatively cheap present resources like water and energy.  To further exacerbate the waste of natural resources, the produce also has to be transported over a vast distance to get to grocery stores throughout the United States. Urban agriculture has the potential to solve many of the above-mentioned problems, albeit on a smaller scale than what would be required to sustain an entire urban environment.

Urban agriculture is the solution to growing food locally and is often more sustainable than traditional farming. When extensive transportation requirements are eliminated from the current food system, there is a significant decrease in the amount of fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. To go along with that, any produce that would have become damaged during the transportation process and thrown away as a result would be consumed instead. A sizable amount of environmental damage could be prevented if more people started farming in their urban environments. Urban agriculture is by no means a complete solution to the problems of the current food system, especially with regard to scale, but it could provide the most feasible near-term solution.

The Urban Agriculture Environment Today

Urban food systems comprise several common forms for more localized food production near population centers, including: (1) traditional small plots of land with or without physical coverage (i.e., high tunnels or hoop houses), (2) greenhouses, (3) rooftop gardens and greenhouses, and (4) high-density indoor agriculture using hydroponics or aquaponics systems. Urban food systems continue to develop along two major pathways:

One approach involves independent growers or community groups, working on a small scale with facilities arranged in vacant or underutilized spaces within and around cities (i.e., community gardens, hoop houses, or greenhouses). One recent study suggested that, dedicating the majority of vacant lots, a small fraction of residential lots, and more than half of every commercial and industrial rooftop in the city of Cleveland, OH, to traditional food production could meet between 46% and 100% of the fresh produce needed, nearly 100% of poultry and eggs, and 100% of honey. However, a number of technical and perceived challenges to widespread implementation of small-scale urban agriculture exist, including issues with soil quality, air quality, safety, policy, and energy and water use requirements.

Another approach involves larger commercial efforts that require new construction or retrofitting existing buildings and adapting underutilized spaces for more intensive indoor agricultural production activities. These systems typically rely on hydroponic growing methods using recirculating water to grow plants with much less water withdrawal than soil-based agriculture, or more advanced aquaponic growing methods that build upon hydroponic systems by integrating fish tanks from which the waste streams are used to enrich the recirculating water to grow plants while simultaneously raising fish for consumption, effectively cycling nutrients from fish wastewater into edible plants.


The overall purpose of this IPRO project is to explore innovative solutions to UFarmIIT based on a sustainability strategy for water (e.g., rain collection system and use of an efficient irrigation system), energy (e.g., using solar energy), waste collection and usage, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition, the IPRO team will study potential safety issues and the installation of remote monitoring and control systems via embedded sensor networks and communication for the entire UFarmIIT. The specific objective and tasks of this IPRO project are:

  • Completion of a literature survey on UFarm; complete construction of a rainwater collection system; complete construction of fences around the farm; complete the project of covering the areas other than beds as part of rainwater collection system and preventing the growth of weeds; and modification and construction of rainwater collection system and modification of hoop house.
  • The IPRO team will first review and understand all of the design and construction of UfarmIIT including hoop house done by the 2017 and 2018 IPRO teams by reviewing 2017 and 2018 IPRO reports. In an attempt to be more sustainable, we would need to collect rainwater to be partially independent from city water. This should include use of the largest unused area on the farm which is the roof of the hoop house.
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