Nestled along a tree-lined road parallel to Interstate 75 spans 25 acres that Kennesaw State University has operated as a sustainable farm since 2013. The Office of Research began managing the site (formerly Hickory Grove Farm) July 1, which is now called the Kennesaw State University Field Station.
Research Opportunities and Outdoor Learning Spaces
The site represents a boost in the university-wide initiative to enhance undergraduate research through expanded experiential learning opportunities and in turn support faculty members and graduate students, so they can explore important areas of scholarship and research that are aligned to real-world applications.
A focus on the environment is a top priority due to the continued increase in global populations. Projects tackling sustainability issues through innovative home design or self-sufficient gardens, for example, can be addressed. The field station also provides space for research in biology, ecology, geology and other relevant fields to improve the quality of life.
For example, KSU researchers Chris Cornelison and Kyle Gabriel of the BioInnovation Laboratory designed and built an automated mushroom production protoype in a shipping container on the property. This customized enclosed environment optimizes high growth yields and varieties of wildly foraged mushrooms from the field station’s forest as well as commercially produced mushrooms.
The KSU Field Station also serves as a site for students and faculty to engage in KSU coursework activities such as ecology courses in which students learn environmental sampling procedures in the lab and also in the field.
Sustainable Agriculture in the Urban Setting
Currently, the KSU Field Station supports a plethora of activities that focus on best practices in sustainable agriculture, especially in an urban setting where locally produced, highly nutritional food is not considered the norm, due to the lack of arable land for conventional growing methods. Operations manager Michael Blackwell has implemented low-cost, energy-efficient technology-based approaches for high-yield crop production in support of KSU’s Farm-to-Campus program that was launched almost a decade ago. Historically, the KSU Field Station has been used to grow up to 20,000 pounds of produce such as lettuce annually for the Commons dining hall at KSU.
Four greenhouses dot the landscape, each with its own unique attributes to help extend the growing season year-round. The first greenhouse, called the propagation lab, is the most important since this is where plants are reproduced through seedlings or through tissue culture. Two others are high tunnel structures, which feature conventional in-ground growing. The most high-tech structure is the hydroponics lab, which utilizes a soilless growing technique in which the plants – currently lettuce and some herbs – are submerged in water inoculated with bacteria. The bacteria, acting as a biological control to decrease disease and pests, colonize the roots as they grow. They keep out the specific diseases that would normally affect the produce if grown outdoors.