University of St. Thomas senior Dagmawe Mamo works with an indoor vegetable and herb-growing unit he and a group of fellow engineering students developed for use by a Twin Cities nonprofit that promotes food security. Rappaport is the founder of Seeds Feeds, a small but expanding hunger-fighting nonprofit. The group distributes fresh, healthy food to families in need and cultivates growing skills in its clients at 10 gardens throughout St. Louis Park.
But when harvest passes and the season turns, Rappaport said: "The gardens close in Minnesota, and we can't really do fresh stuff. Our people are like, 'if we could just get makings for salad, it'd be so nice if we could get this throughout the winter'." Four engineering students from the University of St. Thomas just wrapped up two semesters of work on a project that aims to give Seeds Feeds — and maybe some of the individual families it serves — an inexpensive way to grow leafy vegetables and herbs year-round.
"We were surprised at how fast the plants grew," said Noah Drehmel, an electrical engineering major who was part of the St. Thomas group. In recent months, he and his colleagues were quickly growing leafy greens and herbs using the system they built in a laboratory on the school's St. Paul campus. Greens grown indoors and year-round, including by several Minnesota companies, are a growing segment of the nation's vegetable market. Though still dwarfed by greens grown outdoors in the southwest United States, indoor operations using hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic technology are on the rise amid supply chain disruptions, spikes in the price of food, and concerns over that region's long-term water supply.
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