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WSU’s Green Times – Mobile Garden, Bread Lab, Pesticide Residues

Posted by | June 19, 2014

June 2014

Mobile garden drives students to learn

When Ciara Dahm brought her dresser to Washington State University as a freshman, she envisioned it holding her T-shirts, socks and sweaters—not chickens, worms and mushrooms.

Ciara Dahm and Kyle Braun inspect the MAC’s chicken roost. (Photo by Kate Wilhite, WSU)
Ciara Dahm and Kyle Braun inspect the MAC’s chicken roost. (Photo by Kate Wilhite, WSU)

The dresser, which turned out to be too big for her college apartment, now serves a new purpose as the framework for a Mobile Agricultural Center (MAC). The innovative project was inspired by a design/build class in the Washington State University Landscape Architecture program.

Dahm is one of six students who imagined, designed and initiated construction of the MAC, a compact, travel-ready, sustainable agricultural system that delivers hands-on learning opportunities to schools, community centers and WSU campus locations.

“The back of the dresser and the top two drawers were removed so we could fill them with hay for chickens to roost,” said Dahm, a Landscape Architecture major. “To harvest the eggs, you just pull open the drawers.”

Along with the chicken roost and coop, the MAC features a living green roof, and numerous modular planting beds that can be left at different locations. The completed model will also feature solar panels, composting and water collection systems, tool storage and a hand-washing station. The dresser’s lower drawers will be lined and used in different ways, including as worm and mushroom habitat.

From paper to practice

The class, taught by Elizabeth Graff, a professor in the WSU School of Design and Construction, provided the MAC team with a number of hands-on learning opportunities.

Elizabeth Graff (Photo by Norea Graff)
Elizabeth Graff (Photo by Norea Graff)

“We wanted to use as much re-purposed material as possible, but in some cases we couldn’t find the materials we needed,” said Dahm. The team ended up having to use new lumber for the framework in order to comply with the WSU carpentry shop’s safety requirements.

“We found out that some things wouldn’t work, and so we’ve been designing as we go,” said Kyle Braun, a Landscape Architecture student and project manager for the MAC project. “I’m really proud of everyone in the class because we came together and there wasn’t a lot of conflict in making decisions.”

“Prior to this, I really didn’t have a lot of real-world experience working on a project that I helped design. My knowledge was all very theoretical,” said Dahm. “It was really cool getting the experience of not only working with people within my group but also with members of the community.”

Building the vision

When Graff was asked to teach the class last spring, a project had yet to be identified.

“The idea wasn’t even in existence,” she said. “To be charged with designing and building a project in a semester, with no idea what you are going to do, requires a bit of a miracle.

Kyle Braun installs planters for the MAC’s green roof. (Photo by Kate Wilhite, WSU)
Kyle Braun installs planters for the MAC’s green roof. (Photo by Kate Wilhite, WSU)

Graff enlisted the help of alumni, industry partners and staff to identify a project that would provide value to WSU and the community as well as challenge students to investigate, design, build and demonstrate a complete landscape system.

“All of these people came together—stakeholders, alumni, the six students involved—and the dynamic was really flowing and creative,” said Graff.

Early in the process, the decision was made to create a project that would become part of the Eggert Family Organic Farm on the WSU campus in Pullman. Since the master plan for the Eggert Farm is still in the development stage, the idea of a mobile learning garden was introduced and the students embraced it.

Team members were intrigued by concepts both old and new. They gave bookmobiles high marks because of the accessibility and benefits provided to people who would otherwise not have access to information. And they valued the more recent “tiny house movement” for its ingeniously designed living spaces, often on wheels.

“They just went nuts! It got really exciting,” said Graff.

“The MAC embodies natural resource systems on a micro-scale for demonstration,” said Graff. “It integrates systems that landscape architects inherently work with such as water, energy, land use, and materials and intends to publicly inspire responsibility for how we manage and use our resources in the face of rising global pressures.”

The MAC in action

Graff and several students from the class recently conducted a planting workshop at Tekoa Elementary School in Tekoa, Wash. Since the MAC is not yet ready for travel, they brought along several planters from the green roof.

“We’ve developed curricula that explains permaculture, the concept of seed-to-table, responsible use of resources and where food comes from,” said Graff.

Tekoa Elementary School fourth-graders plant lettuce as part of a MAC workshop. (Photo by Francene Watson, WSU)
Tekoa Elementary School fourth-graders plant lettuce as part of a MAC workshop. (Photo by Francene Watson, WSU)

The Tekoa fourth-graders learned about the concepts behind the mobile garden, helped plant seedlings in planters for the green roof and proposed designs for painting the shingles on the MAC.

“We taught them the basics of planting a few different vegetables,” said Kristofor Ludvigson, an organic agriculture major. “It had just rained the day before, so they were also really interested in the worms that were in the ground. I think they enjoyed helping and getting dirty.”

More to come

While the MAC will eventually be parked at the Eggert Farm, it will spend the summer at the Tukey Orchard. This fall, the WSU Landscape Architecture Club, which includes most of the students from Graff’s design/build class will complete the construction of the MAC. Tours will be ongoing.

For more information about the WSU Landscape Architecture Club, visit their Facebook page at

– Kate Wilhite

Chef praises WSU wheat breeder in New York Times bestseller

If Dan Barber had his way, there would be a wheat breeder like Stephen Jones in every corner of every state. Jones features prominently in the new New York Times bestseller, “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food,” written by Barber, chef and owner of Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns Food and Agriculture Center in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

“Let me just say this, there are no wheat breeders like Steve in the country,” Barber said recently.

Chefs adapt eating to local resources

Dan Barber, left, and Stephen Jones in the greenhouse at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York in 2011. (Photo by Hannelore Sudermann, WSU)
Dan Barber, left, and Stephen Jones in the greenhouse at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York in 2011. (Photo by Hannelore Sudermann, WSU)

Two chapters of the book are devoted to the work Jones does breeding grain and testing new varieties at the bread lab at the Washington State University Mount Vernon Research and Extension Center.

The author said he believes chefs have a responsibility to shift “patterns of eating” to reflect local ecology and the needs of farmers, rather than the other way around. This transformation will be driven by an appreciation for flavor and will require more plant breeders like Jones and his graduate students who breed with flavor, nutrition, soil health and the bottom line for farmers in mind.

“There are other breeders who have a similar sort of fascination with food and flavor and nutrition and ecological resilience and economic return for the farmer,” Barber said. “But unbelievably, (even with more than) 56 million acres of wheat grown in this country, there are no Steve Joneses. You have him here, in your neighborhood.”

An appreciative, largely urban audience erupted in applause after Barber made the comment during a recent book-tour stop in Seattle.

Land-grant universities revitalize local economies

Barber is not only a big fan of Jones, but also of the land-grant university system, which the author describes as “an instrument for public good,” and which supports Jones’ work to revitalize a regional grain economy.

Barber gave a brief lesson on the history of the land-grant college system established by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 to offer education throughout the nation in practical topics like agriculture and engineering.

“Your tax dollars go to support a land-grant college in every state in the country,” the author explained. “The land-grant university system is the envy of the world.”

Yet it’s challenging to write about because, as Barber puts it, it’s not sexy. He was disappointed that a more in-depth section he wrote about the topic was cut from the final version of his book.

Watch this video to learn more about the WSU Bread Lab in Mt Vernon.

Click to watch video.
Click to watch video.









– Sylvia Kantor

Pesticide residues in organic food — delivering on a promise

Avoiding pesticide exposure and risks remains the #1 reason most people choose organic food. This is not likely to change until there is convincing data that show only modest differences between the pesticide dietary risks associated with residues in and on organic food, compared to conventionally grown food.

Pesticide risk is a function of four interactive variables: the inherent toxicity of a specific pesticide, the level at which it is present in a given food, how much of the food is consumed in a typical day, and the timing of the exposure in terms of a person’s life history. Fortunately, much is known now about the frequency and levels of pesticides in commonly consumed foods (conventional and organic), as well as pesticide toxicity.  In addition, ongoing research continues to discover and unravel factors that increase the risk stemming from a given pesticide exposure episode, like pregnancy, a compromised immune system, or certain genetic polymorphisms.

Using risk assessment methods based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) science policies and data on pesticide toxicity, the Measure to Manage (M2M) program has built and applied a pesticide Dietary Risk Index (DRI) system to residues in conventionally grown and organic foods, and also domestically grown versus imported foods. Read more.