Rooftop Greenhouse Teaches, Nourishes and Empowers Students

Sourced from the University of Arizona News

Twice a week in the basement of the Student Union Memorial Center, about 500 students, faculty and staff pick up free groceries at the University of Arizona Campus Pantry.

Twice a week on the roof of the student union, UA students and future commercial growers harvest cucumbers, tomatoes and bell peppers from the Rooftop Greenhouse and send the vegetables down to the Campus Pantry. This student-designed, and mostly student-run, controlled-environment facility is the first rooftop campus greenhouse in the nation that can produce food year-round, with 10 times the productivity of an outdoor garden.

“We harvest on the same days the campus pantry does distribution and bring the food right down, so the produce is super fresh,” said Stacy Tollefson, project and production manager for the greenhouse and a professor of practice in the Department of Biosystems Engineering, as well as an expert vegetable grower for the UA’s nationally recognized Controlled Environment Agriculture educational program.

Seed of an Idea

When Todd Millay became director of the Arizona Student Unions in December 2016, he was excited to see there was a small outdoor garden on the roof being run by staff. When he heard about the Campus Pantry, which was serving about 30-40 people every few weeks, he offered pantry volunteers a central campus location in the Student Union, but noticed they weren’t receiving many fresh produce donations. The potential for connection seemed clear.

“Why don’t we just make a better garden on the roof and send the food down?” he thought. “And maybe instead of Student Union employees figuring out how to do this, we could ask students how to build it.”

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