Growing Without Soil | Udayli

UD students learn about hydroponic food production

Photo by Monica Moriah, Qingwu Meng & Grapefruit Bar + Kitchen | Video by JT Maher

UD students study the science of hydroponic food production.

Before the pandemic buys a tight food chain and grocery store shelves, the US food system already needs sustainable food improvements.

Eric Ervin, an appetite supplier for the growing need of suburbs and urban dwellers, saw an opportunity for the University of Delaware. Chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC) UD knows how to teach students how to solve food problems in all directions – scientific, business and social. So the PLSC faculty has created sustainable food systems, a new core for entrepreneurs to eat healthy chickens with a small carbon footprint and healthy, nutritious food.

The challenge is hydroponic production, an integral part of sustainable urban food production, both in terms of year-round domestic production and feeding of the needy, which allows plants to grow rich in nutrients without soil. With urban land declining, growers can strategically place unused hydroponic systems on buildings, roofs, and brown fields.

Shortly after the program began, PLSC hired Qingwu (William) Ming, who will serve as a base for future home-grown farmers in the field of horticulture.

“Students will learn alternative ways of growing food sustainably, especially in urban areas, to feed our growing population,” Meng said. “Our program trains students to become professionals, technicians or researchers in the hydroponic industry.”

UD's Qingwu Meng (right), Eric Ervin (center), and Abi Reeves (left) show hydroponic leaf roots for Chef Bill Walen, a food grapefruit bar at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  For use in its restaurants.

UD’s Qingwu Meng (right), Eric Ervin (center), and Abi Reeves (left) show hydroponic leaf roots for Chef Bill Walen, a food grapefruit bar at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. For use in its restaurants.

Meng’s Delaware Indoor Ag Lab (DIAL) produces specialty crops without soil. His research focuses on plant physiological responses in controlled areas such as indoor orchards and greenhouses.

“This will enable us to efficiently improve the growth and quality of household crops by adapting variables such as light, heat and nutrients,” Meng said.

The luxury of home-grown plants can increase crop yields, taste and nutritional value and shorten production cycles. The appeal is clear to many groups, including nonprofits, food insecurity, environmentalists and astronauts.

UD students Omar Abdullah (left), Ian Kelly (Dara), Joshua Galin (center) and Zoe Bara as a hydroponic food production course.

UD students Omar Abdullah (left), Ian Kelly (Dara), Joshua Galin (center) and Zoe Bara as a hydroponic food production course.

Emily Kenbeck, a student at UD’s Plant and Soil Science Graduation Program, is working with Meng on space crop research with NASA funding. Researchers are investigating the emergence of hydroponic foliage at different wavelengths and extreme levels of carbon dioxide in space. As a former NASA pilot, Kenneth loves to explore how we can grow food crops efficiently to meet the long-term missions of nutritionists. Her research uses modern plant growth components in the DIAL.

“My time at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in the field of processing plants has strengthened my desire to expand my crop production and its usefulness on Earth,” says Kenneth. “I look forward to continuing to work with space applications under Dr. Meng at Delaware University.”

Emily Kenbeck, a graduate student of Plant and Soil Sciences, is working on a NASA-supported space crop research to study how hydroponic green algae grow in space under high light waves and extremely high levels of carbon dioxide.

Emily Kenbeck, a graduate student of Plant and Soil Sciences, is working on a NASA-sponsored space crop study to study how hydroponic green algae grow in different light waves and high levels of carbon dioxide.

In undergraduate, students learn to build a hydroponic system, develop food crops, administer nutrient solutions, and analyze economic feasibility in the Meng hydroponic food production course. Primarily from the major departments of sustainable nutrition and herbal sciences, undergraduates will receive the final practical instruction in analyzing data while building, testing and maintaining their own greenhouse hydroponic systems, growing and harvesting crops. They also learn to identify problems in the production cycle, such as malnutrition.

“Hydroponics is a big part of making our diet more sustainable. My favorite project was to build a film-technical system, because it is a large and complex system [where a stream of water containing dissolved nutrients is re-circulated]”Said Ian Kelly, a 2024 UD member and head of sustainable nutrition. “We had to work as a team, and there were a lot of problem solvers to put the problem together.”

Sophomore Stephanie Severine by

Sophomore Stephanie Severine is working on the vegetable garden at The Tower at STAR, which is now fully operational in a wide range of recipes and cooking facilities.

UD research and degree programs have attracted the attention of VOLT Grow. The lighting company has donated LED lights that increase energy efficiency compared to the current high pressure sodium lamps. These toys give Meng and his students advanced lighting capabilities for greenhouse plant research.

“Horticultural research is critical to creating sustainable crop production and improving community safety. Controlled Area Fruits and Vegetables is at the forefront of this initiative, and we look forward to seeing how our LED lighting fixtures contribute to lighting. “We look forward to helping Delaware University expand its opportunities for indoor fruit and vegetable research.”

New York City residents can taste the product carefully. The famous Graphite Bar + Kitchen, in collaboration with the College of Natural Resources, is working to provide UD vegetables grown in greenhouses and on UD Fresh to You student-run farming.

“We look forward to working with our Uudi Alumni.” “By choosing to support local and sustainable farming, we will reduce the amount of time from farm to table by providing healthier, more nutritious and tasty ingredients, leaving little to be desired.”

Sustainable Food System Core Zoe Bara builds NFT hydroponic system.

Sustainable Food System Core Zoe Bara builds NFT hydroponic system.

The product is on the ground floor of the Fintech Innovation Center under construction.

Also, Stephanie Severin, a graduate student on the road, is working with the College of Health Sciences to renovate the hydroponic plant at The Tower on STAR. Next to the green wall, the vegetable garden is now fully operational and can be used to cook many recipes and cooking lessons. Meng’s research shows that different colors of light affect the growth and taste of plants in the garden.

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