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Sustainability students grow up

Students depict Robert Colangelo. Photo credit/Ryan Lohman

Students depict Robert Colangelo.
Photo credit/Ryan Lohman

By: RYAN LOHMAN
Managing Editor
editorpreface@gmail.com

Green Sense Farms just got a new coat of paint or two thanks to IU South Bend sustainability students.

The vertical farm in Portage, Indiana, will now feature a mural depicting the history—and future—of agriculture painted by students of professor of sustainability Edwin Joseph’s “The Art of Sustainability” class. The future of agriculture, Joseph said, is growing vertically.

“What we asked the students to do is to look for ideas, look for pictures, and kind of predict what agriculture is going to be in the near future,” Joseph said at an event unveiling the mural Nov. 9.

The class unveiled the mural on the stage of the Performance Hall in Northside Hall. It takes up nearly the entire width of the stage, suspended by long wires that disappear into the rafters. The history of agriculture that it depicts includes scenes from Ancient Egypt and the Dustbowl of the American Midwest.

“When one stands on the left of this mural, and you walk through time, we see what has happened. And we see what is happening now, and based on that, we ask, ‘Is there any way to predict what’s going to happen in the future?’ That’s the blank board,” Joseph said, pointing to the last square panel of the five-panel mural.

Next to the blank one, a large portrait depicts Robert Colangelo, CEO of Green Sense Farms where the mural will soon hang. In the timeline of the mural, he sits somewhere in the near future.

“Our farm is really a confluence of business, art and science. So we started talking, and we somehow came up with the idea of creating a course,” Colangelo said at the unveiling. “We thought it would really bring these three disciplines together—business, art and science—and the outcome was ‘The Art of Sustainability,’ and the deliverable being a mural that we could put on our wall, depicting the origin of food.”

Vertical farming is the future, said senior anthropology major Elizabeth O’Dea, because it is so sustainable.

“There is such a large amount of water wasted when doing large-scale cropping, as well as the use of pesticides and herbicides,” O’Dea said about current practices in agriculture. “Then you’re exposed to environmental factors—if there’s a drought, those things, just natural elements. By doing it inside in a vertical farm, they actually can control the environment. Not only that, but through sustainable practices in water use and efficient lighting, it’s just altogether a better method of farming. It’s not large-scale, but it is still impressive on its own, the amount of people that it reaches. It’s local. You don’t have the need for a lot of resources in transporting.”

Green Sense Farms is the “largest commercial indoor vertical farm,” Colangelo said, and they are expanding operations. The company is working on a new farm in South Bend in conjunction with Ivy Tech Community College, said plant manager Lane Patterson.

As for the last panel of the mural, the possibilities are endless, Joseph said.

“Probably farming in a cave. Probably farming in space. Probably farming under the sea. Probably farming on the moon,” he said. “There are already green things in space. That’s no longer in the distant future.”

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