Rist Urban Greenhouse at UMass Lowell

In 2017, UMass Lowell, in partnership with Mill City Grows, constructed an 1,800 square foot greenhouse in this location. In 2023, the footprint of the greenhouse doubled in size, which increased its production capacity to deliver more than 30,000 pounds of produce annually for local food pantries, mobile markets, and institutions. In addition to being a full-scale agricultural production site, this location also doubles as a testing ground where University researchers and students can work with community members to develop new and efficient ways to grow and develop organic and sustainable produce. 

Local Partnerships

Working in tandem with students and faculty conducting research at the Rist Urban Agriculture Greenhouse and Farm is a local non-profit, Mill City Grows. Mill City Grows fosters food justice by improving physical health, economic independence, and environmental sustainability in Lowell through increased access to land, locally grown food, and education. At the heart of Mill City Grows' projects is their Urban Farm Program, which produces the seasonal fruits and vegetables that are then made available to the community.

The Rist Institute of Sustainability & Energy is also proud to boast our local partnership with the Lowell-based company, Craic (pronounced "crack") Sauce. As part of our partnership and close collaboration, Craic Sauce has been able to formulate its limited "UML Edition Craic Sauce," using peppers grown from UMass Lowell's very own Rooftop Gardens. You can find Craic Sauce's delicious hot sauces at the River Hawk Shop, or as you may have noticed, in the dining halls on campus!

Campus as a Living Lab

The Rist Urban Agriculture Greenhouse and Farm is used not only as a full-scale agricultural production site, but is is also used as a testing ground for university researchers and students to work with community members to develop new and efficient ways to grow and develop sustainable produce.

The UMass Lowell campus boasts several Rooftop Gardens, and of course, the Rist Urban Agriculture Greenhouse and Farm location, which serves to produce sustainably sourced produce on-campus, allow for students to conduct research, and to bolster our local partnerships.

Faculty and students from UMass Lowell's Energy Engineering Program are conducting research at the Rist Urban Agriculture Greenhouse and Farm with a focus on the food/water/energy nexus. The structure of the greenhouse itself uses a combination of active and passive solar energy to produce much of the energy necessary to operate the greenhouse. Produce is grown on a seasonal and regionally specific schedule with the associated energy and water use that has been research and analyzed for optimal efficiency. Soil used at the greenhouse comes from the compost generated from UMass Lowell's award-winning food waster diversion program, which is instituted at each of our dining facilities. Due to the site's convenient 100-foot buffer from the Merrimack River, innovative rain and stormwater capture techniques have been employed. Collectively, these approaches, which mirror larger campus-wide projects, result in a substantial environmental benefit. Likewise, these approaches provide significant economic savings to UMass Lowell through a reduction in utility costs.

Hate Weeding? Engineering Student Helps Startup Devise Solution

UMass Lowell's, Max Prescott, a mechanical engineering major, has been working on a new device as part of his internship with Tetrill, as a sustainable solution to weeding. Prescott has tested the solar-powered garden weeding robot, about the size of a waffle maker, whirl up a dirt incline at the Rist Urban Agriculture Greenhouse and Farm on East Campus. Equipped with a small, spinning weed whack on its underside and sensors to help it navigate around a framed-in garden bed, the Tetrill robot bears a striking resemblance to a Roomba. Considering Joe Jones, the co-founder of Tetrill, was iRobot's first full-time hire and helped invent the Roomba, it's not surprising that they were able to create a similarly designed robot to complete different tasks.

Read the full article: Hate Weeding? Engineering Student Helps Startup Devise Solution.

Sustainability Projects Take Shape on Campus

As a frequent visitor of the Rist Urban Agriculture Greenhouse and Farm, mechanical engineering junior, Caralyn Conrad is now using the space to explore a sustainable alternative to plastic mulch film. Plastic mulch films are used to hold in the soil's moisture and limit weed growth. Working with Plastics Engineering Asst. Prof. Wan-Ting (Grace) Chen, Conrad is studying how mulch film made of soy and biodegradable plastic breaks down over time. Conrad's work recently received funding from the Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy'sFellowship Program, which supports faculty and students' interest in pursuing sustainability-related research, education, or engagement projects.

Read the full article: Sustainability Projects Take Shape on Campus.

Green Fertilizer

Green Fertilizer is a team consisting of Samuel Alpert, a graduate in energy engineering; Bernard Tabu, and Visal Veng, Ph.D. students in energy engineering and they are passionate about solving the global issue of food insecurity. Through their proposed project, water can be turned into fertilizer via plasma synthesis in the form of nitrates. This will help to reduce waste and runoff during transportation as well as planting, and in turn also reduce the number of emissions and pollution from the farming process. The system would replace the conventional fertilizer growing process, using solar energy to store and have resources available on demand.

Read the full profile: Green Fertilizer.

Giving Back to the Community

Twenty percent of the produce grown at the Rist Urban Agriculture Greenhouse and Farm is donated back to community members, including the UMass Lowell student food pantry. Additionally, produce grown at the site is available through the Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program (HIP). This matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients' purchase of local fruits and vegetables to drive healthier and more environmentally sustainable consumption methods in low-income communities.