- Associated Press - Sunday, January 10, 2016

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - Second Harvest Food Bank has a constant need for fresh vegetables, and students at Purdue Polytechnic are working on a plan to help produce more of it locally year round.

Those same students are also developing a plan to increase the efficiency of the eight-county food bank’s warehousing and logistics operations.

While both projects developed by several classes of polytechnic students are important, the one that generates the most excitement would employ hydroponics to grow vegetables for distribution to clients and possibly for sale to institutions like schools and other government organizations.

Generally, hydroponics is a method of growing fruits and vegetables in a nutrient solution where all aspects of the growing process are precisely controlled.

Small quantities can be grown at home, although larger commercial operations have sprung up around the country to meet an increasing demand for locally grown produce that increase the shelf life of products while at the same time reducing the amount of energy needed to get those products to market.

Students worked on their small-scale program out of a nondescript warehouse off Madison Avenue near downtown. During a meeting at the facility last month, students briefed Second Harvest officials on their work so far this year.

Tim Kean, president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana, said the results were impressive.

“It’s fascinating. Your mind just goes in eight different directions,” Kean said after the student presentations. “When you talk about doing this inside a building and growing food 12 months of the year, it just changes the dynamic of what we’re trying to do.”

Kean said Second Harvest receives free donations of fresh produce from across the country, but the organization still must pay shipping costs to the Midwest, which can run into thousands of dollars.

By growing its own fruits and vegetables in either a warehouse or specially constructed greenhouse that might be built on its property in Muncie, the organization could increase the shelf life of food, sharply reduce its transportation costs and carbon footprint, and apply those resources to other operations.

Tess Spencer, one of the Purdue Polytechnic students involved in the project, said another advantage of growing vegetables instead of simply taking what’s donated sight unseen is the ability to tailor crops to what people will actually eat.

“These kids love this project,” said Corey Sharp, director of Purdue Polytechnic Anderson, calling the work and presentation the culmination of several classes. And the work won’t end immediately.

“It’s pretty cutting edge for a food bank to be involved in something like this,” said Kean. “Scaling up could change the playing field of what we do.”

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Source: The (Anderson) Herald-Bulletin, https://bit.ly/1Z3VgoL

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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