By Ed Brennen
When she was a student at the university in the 1970s, Chancellor Jacquie Moloney got together with a few friends and started a community garden on a vacant lot in the Highlands section of Lowell.
So Moloney was particularly proud to help cut the ribbon recently on the university’s new Urban Agriculture Greenhouse, where that same communal spirit can now flourish year-round.
“To see how you’ve taken that idea and are showing the world a new way to green our environment – not just with beautiful gardens, but with engagement – that is so important to us as a university,” Moloney said during the official opening of the greenhouse, which is being managed by the Office of Sustainability in partnership with Lowell-based urban farming nonprofit Mill City Grows.
Located behind Donahue Hall on East Campus, the 1,800-square-foot greenhouse and surrounding acre of land will be a testing ground where university researchers and students can work with community members to develop new and efficient ways to use water and energy to grow sustainable crops year-round. The vegetables and herbs will be donated and sold back to the community, and some may eventually be served in the university’s dining halls.
“Our planet needs this greenhouse,” Moloney told the state and city officials and community members on hand for the opening. “It needs us to think about the future and how we change the way that we feed ourselves and our communities.”
The Baker-Polito Administration used the ribbon-cutting ceremony to announce $343,079 in state grants for eight urban agriculture projects across the Commonwealth. UMass Lowell received a $71,808 grant for phase two of the site, which calls for the installation of a year-round water connection and heating mats to help grow seedlings during the winter.
“It’s fitting to make this announcement at UMass Lowell,” said Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Commissioner John Lebeaux. “Our department is striving to support commercial urban food production across the commonwealth and to promote innovation. I believe with projects like this, we are definitely making an impact.”
State Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell joined Moloney, Lebeaux and Mill City Grows co-founder Lydia Sisson ’12 in cutting the ribbon.
“Sustainability is not only good for the city of Lowell and the Commonwealth, it’s good for our country,” Golden said. “My thanks to all the young adults here at UMass Lowell working tirelessly to make this happen.”
Associate Director of Sustainability Ruairi O'Mahony noted that compost from the university dining halls and leaves from the campus grounds will be used to enrich the soil at the site.
“We’re very excited to practice what we’re preaching here and establish our campus as innovation space for urban sustainability issues,” said O’Mahony, who helped secure an earlier round of state grants totaling $73,000 to fund the site.
The event included a tour of the greenhouse, where bright green rows of spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts are already flourishing, and the future outdoor garden space, where deep-growing daikon radishes have been planted to help decompact soil that was formerly used as a parking lot. Guests were also able to buy fresh produce from Mill City Grows’ Mobile Market.
The university also used the event to commemorate its most recent “Tree Campus USA” designation from the Arbor Day Foundation. UMass Lowell is one of 344 colleges and universities from across the country recognized for effectively managing its campus trees and promoting healthy urban forests. The university planted an Asian pear tree at the greenhouse site to mark the honor.
Moloney thanked Lebeaux and Golden, as well as Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Management Tom Dreyer and the university’s executive cabinet, for making the greenhouse a reality. She added that the project is an example of how the university can think strategically to further its commitment to sustainability.
“The excitement and hope for what they’re going to accomplish here is medicine for what we need in the world right now,” Moloney said. “It shows the impact that we all can have.”