- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - Ball State University students have completed the design and construction of what is being called the first non-toxic, fully automated, mobile greenhouse for organic urban farming.

“This is a prototype that lends itself to the sort of transient nature of the urban farm, which . is moving toward the mainstream,” says Timothy Gray, associate professor of architecture.

A quote posted on the Facebook page of Butler University’s CUE Farm, where the greenhouse will be placed, reads, “I think in 100 years, urban agriculture will be as normal as the city parks we have today.”

The greenhouse will be used to cultivate plant starts for Butler’s Center for Urban Ecology Farm, which sells its produce to Indianapolis restaurants and to the community through community-supported agriculture subscriptions and the Farm Stand.

Butler awarded a $50,000 grant to Gray’s class of fourth-year architecture students for Indiana-made/supplied materials for the green-framed greenhouse.

Other sponsors, consultants and suppliers included Alro Steel, Muncie; AZZ Galvanizing, Muncie; Gaylor Electric, Indianapolis; I-69 Trailer Center, Markle; Shiel Sexton, Indianapolis; and Panacea Powder Coating, Decatur. All of the materials - cedar siding, billboard sheeting, a heat-treated door made without chemicals in Terre Haute, aluminum gutters, fiberglass, polycarbonate sides, windows and roof, galvanized and powder-coated steel - are non-corrosive, non-toxic and decay resistant.

The fans operate on a thermostat. The windows, equipped with actuators that respond to heat, open automatically when it gets too hot. An irrigation/mist system operates on a timer.

“It should function on its own,” Gray said. “It’s fully automated.”

The most expensive part of the greenhouse was the custom-made trailer. “The mobility makes it unique,” Gray said of the project that has attracted national and international inquiries.

So why mobile?

“Urban farming by its nature tends to be transient and temporal,” Gray said. “A lot of urban farming springs up on areas in inner cities suffering from attrition and old factory sites and building demolition sites. By nature, these areas tend to be subject to the whims of development. It might be a great spot at one point in time but as development shifts in the city, urban farms are the first thing to be dislocated.”

Urban farms also tend to be on marginal properties. The CUE Farm, for example, is in a floodplain where permanent facilities aren’t permitted. “Since it’s on wheels, it’s not a permanent facility,” Gray said.

A greenhouse on wheels is also helpful with community outreach and education. “Now we don’t only bring residents to the farm, but we have the potential to bring the farm out into the community,” Gray said.

A final reason was to get the greenhouse from Ball State to Butler. “Being mobile allows us to stage the project up here,” Gray said. Building it at Butler would have been “logistically very challenging to get the students back and forth.” Gray will pull the greenhouse to Butler behind his pickup truck.

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Source: The Star Press: http://tspne.ws/1TpxNeh

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Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com

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