The City’s Newest Farmers Win an NYU Green Grant

A team of Tandon students, dubbed We are the New Farmers, won a Green Grant to develop their prototype vertical farm

When a team of Tandon students decides to address a problem, chances are good that they’ll come up with an innovative yet practical solution. Consider Jonas Günther, currently earning his master’s degree in Technology Management; Computer Engineering undergrad Will Nodvik; Omar Gowayad, a doctoral candidate in Materials Chemistry; Selim Senocak, who is earning a master’s in Industrial Engineering; and Sridhar Parthasarathy and Sarvesh Sivaprakasam, both master’s students in Mechatronics and Robotics. The team decided to dive into the world of sustainable urban farming, and their efforts recently earned them a Green Grant of $20,000 from NYU’s Office of Sustainability, which they will use to further develop their prototype vertical farm.

We Are the New Farmers, as they dubbed their team, initially conceived of a fully enclosed tabletop environment that could house 20 plants, which thrived thanks to a “food computer” that monitored climate, energy use, and growth. That early idea won them a modest Stage I Prototyping Fund Award, offered jointly by the Greenhouse at the Tandon School of Engineering and the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute. They went on to earn a Stage II award of $2,000 that allowed them to develop the commercial refrigerator-sized prototype now operating in the Tandon MakerSpace, which can nurture four times as many plants. They plan to use their latest grant to incorporate such innovations as an aquaponics system that houses fish whose waste can be used as fertilizer, and an algae reactor, which allows otherwise wasted light to be harnessed to grow a highly nutritious secondary crop. (A variety of leafy greens are the primary product.)

Prototyping Fund organizers, including Professor Anne-Laure Fayard, recommended that the team apply for a Green Grant. “We Are the New Farmers is a great example of our school motto in action: putting technology in service to society,” she says. “They are exploring ways to connect local food production and consumption more closely, and this can dramatically impact sustainability efforts. Not only are they enabling the growth of healthy food in densely populated areas, their system uses only a fraction of the water of conventional farms and eliminates the use of non-sustainable fertilizers. Their project is also a great example of how collaborative programs like the Prototyping Fund (in this case, the two phases we experimented with), provide a supportive ecosystem for students to explore and develop ideas.”

Apply for a Green Grant

NYU students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to propose campus sustainability initiatives or social-entrepreneurial ventures for up to $20,000 in funding. Visit Green Grants to learn more and apply.

Learn more about: Anne-Laure Fayard