ASU/MCC form collaborative, USDA urban-agriculture nexus project

Picture of person in vertical gardenMesa Community College (MCC), Arizona State University (ASU) and the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Arid Lands Agricultural Research Center (ALARC) have teamed up to expand agriculture education for MCC and ASU students. The end result of the three-year, $682,313 grant will be a collaborative course of study and articulation between ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the MCC Sustainable Agriculture Program.

Students from MCC and the Fulton Schools of Engineering will work side by side conducting agricultural research to address challenges and identify emerging opportunities at the urban-agriculture nexus in the desert Southwest. Through the grant, the project team will develop an experiential learning course, fund two master’s-level students and engage the larger stakeholder community.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for MCC students to work with ASU undergrads and grad students to gain hands-on field and lab research experiences in agriculture,” says Peter Conden, director of the MCC Sustainable Agriculture Program. “This project incorporates multiple research methods, experiential learning, internships and community engagement – all within the course of one calendar year. Ideally participation will spark students’ interest in pursuing agricultural careers and provide a clear path to associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.”

Research experiments will be conducted at the MCC Center for Urban Agriculture, within ASU’s Fulton Schools of Engineering, and at the ALARC facility in the city of Maricopa, Arizona.

“As urban areas expand and replace extant agriculture, and water resources continue to be strained, there is an increased need for engineering, innovation, and technology in agriculture,” says Rebecca Muenich, an assistant professor of sustainable engineering in the Fulton Schools of Engineering and project principal investigator. “We need more of our students thinking about agriculture as a career path.”

The first collaborative course between ASU and MCC students will be offered in the spring of 2020 where students will work with mentors to develop an agriculturally-related research project. During the summer, students will work at ALARC in paid internship positions where they will execute their research plans and learn more about Arizona agriculture. Example student research project themes include urban agriculture production systems, food safety and the use of urban wastes in agriculture.

To enhance and ignite student involvement in agriculture at both MCC and ASU, faculty members and students will also develop a workshop series focused on issues related to sustainable agriculture in arid, urban-dominated environments. As part of their spring 2020 class, students will develop and organize a webinar on a topic related to their identified project. Webinars will be presented throughout the year.

An advisory board has been convened to advise the overall progress of the project and the larger stakeholder community is invited to advise students and give seminars throughout this semester. As part of this work MCC will establish an indoor vertical farm unit demonstrating food production techniques in a controlled environment.

The project officially kicks off with a two-day conference, Identifying Emerging Opportunities for AZ Agriculture, at MCC on October 10 – 11, 2019.

The term of the grant is January 1, 2019 – December 31, 2022. This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Capacity Building Projects for Non-Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture, project 1017146, grant number 2018-70001-28751.