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  • Jacqueline Chao

UVA's Babylon Micro-Farm

Founded by undergraduate students at the University of Virginia, Babylon Micro-farms has a special connection with UVA. Their connection runs deeper as both the company and the school share a vision of a more sustainable world, in which food and our methods of food production play a vital role! In partnership with Babylon Micro-farms, the University of Virginia has brought hydroponic farming and the food produced from it onto campus and into our food.

But first, what is hydroponic farming and why is it important? Hydroponic farming is an alternative to traditional farming. Rather than plant and grow crops in soil, crops in hydroponic farms are planted right on top of water, into which nutrients and minerals have been dissolved. The research and development of hydroponic farms goes back centuries, and they have recently been shown to provide many advantages over traditional farms. This is due to the fact that hydroponic farms are typically very controlled environments. That is, resource usage in terms of space, water, light, and other resources are carefully monitored, provisioned, and adjusted to the farm’s crops, enabling far less wasteful use of resources. This makes hydroponic farms an attractive alternative to traditional farming, especially in light of increasing population and urbanization. Furthermore, since the hydroponic farm does not depend on external environmental variables, such as the weather or the climate, crops may be produced in even the most inhospitable of places. The city, for example, is a type of place the traditional farm would be hard-pressed to be successfully integrated into. The hydroponic farm, however, has greater potential in that, and it would be able to provide fresh, local produce to metropolitans.

What do the day-to-day operations of the Babylon hydroponic micro-farms look like at the University of Virginia? Jacqueline, a student at the University of Virginia who helps manage one, answers the questions below:

  1. What does your week-to-week look like?

My week typically starts with reviewing my upcoming tasks in a calendar that I’ve set up for myself. Each crop has a germination and maturation period, which can last from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. I keep track of everyone using a spreadsheet, which I try to create in the beginning of the semester, so that I know when to plant, transplant, and harvest. I send out emails to dining hall team leads to notify them of what I’ll be harvesting (if anything), and in the actual dining hall get to work on the tasks I’ve planned for myself.

  1. What do you do during a shift?

What I do varies each shift. Included in the types of tasks I do are planting new crops, transplanting germinated crops, harvesting mature crops, cleaning out trays (which suspend the crops over the water), replacing nutrient and mineral solutions (if necessary), and more!

  1. What is currently growing in the farm?

Currently, there are Green Butterhead, Iceberg, and Romaine lettuces growing in the farm, along with the Basil herb and the microgreen Micro-arugula.

  1. Where does the produce go when you harvest it?

Typically, produce goes towards the salad bar station, especially the lettuces. For herbs and microgreens, however, the chef may decide to use it in an entree, side dish, or soup, or it may just go into storage for use later.

  1. What does the process look like?

The overall process of maintaining the micro-farm can be a pretty physically laborious one, but one that is also greatly rewarding. It’s a long-term project, which starts with planning at the beginning and implementing after that. Occasionally, I might have a question about operating the micro-farm or a concern about the crops, which is when I will seek help from our point of contact at Babylon Micro-farms, whose prompt and attentive help helps me continue our sustainability initiative at the University of Virginia!

Want to learn more? Read the 2021 Environmental Report Card for O’Hill’s micro-farm below!

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