FARM TO SKYSCRAPER?
Oswin Chackochan and Linnea Cline, both students at Purdue’s Krannert School of Management, are the epitome of the type of students the fellowship is meant to attract. Chackochan grew up in South Bend, Indiana. Before this fellowship, she did not have much knowledge in agriculture. “I never personally saw myself in agriculture,” Chackochan says.
But Chackochan, who is majoring in marketing, international business and Spanish, has been drawn to Land O’Lakes as a company for a while. “There is something about them that stood out to me when I spoke with them at a recruiting fair as a freshman,” explains Chackochan. “It was the recruiters and how easy it was to talk to them and they had a nice culture and environment.”
Still, Chackochan wasn’t exactly adept in agricultural skills. So she studied. “There were some common problems I kept reading about,” Chackochan says. “It’s that land is becoming more expensive and we don’t have enough arable land. My first idea was to create more arable land. I thought we could genetically modify the soil to grow food indoors and then make skyscrapers of genetically modified arable land.”
A BUSINESS STUDENT DOES HYDROPONICS
Chackochan later learned there is currently no way to alter the genetics of soil. She switched her idea to hydroponics. The urban farming technique is beginning to pop up in cities in America and other countries. Essentially, it is growing food with nutrient rich water instead of a soil base. The water can be recycled.
“They call it vertical farming and it allows food to be produced in a controlled environment,” Chackochan explains. “You don’t have to worry about drought or limited water. One place this hasn’t been introduced is Africa.”
Her research now is looking into the logistics and cost of introducing vertical farming to sub-Saharan Africa. Chackochan plans to try this farming process out in Africa this summer. “There’s a huge Vitamin D deficiency in Africa,” Chackochan says. “I’m looking at how to help grow kale or spinach or another vegetable high in Vitamin D content.”
AN IDEA BASED ON ALCOHOL AWARENESS
Cline, who also grew up on the fringe of the agricultural world in Charleston, Illinois, is taking the public information and communications approach. She is majoring in marketing and accounting with an international concentration at Krannert. She decided that spreading awareness about the problem is essential.
“I think a lot of people view this problem as being inevitable or impossible to solve,” Cline explains. “But there are a lot of things people can do on a small scale with simple water reduction and other strategies.”
So Cline’s idea developed into an online interactive learning experience akin to AlcoholEdu—the educational program many universities are requiring incoming freshman to take. “It will gather information about what they currently know about food sustainability and then teach them small scale solutions as well as gather other ideas they have,” Cline says.
ESSENTIAL SKILLS ARE BEING DEVELOPED
Regardless of the project, these students are gaining valuable experiences while attempting to foster a more sustainable planet.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot about the problem of global food security I otherwise might not have understood,” Cline says. “All of us had a different idea coming into this and we have had opportunities to learn about and work with the other students. There are a lot of different ideas and things to do to solve the problem.”
Even with the brunt of the internship yet to come, Chackochan says she has already tapped into a research side of herself that she otherwise didn’t know existed. “I’ve never done this type of research,” Chackochan says. “But for this to be successful, you have to put in the effort to find a solution. This internship has forced me to talk to people I would have never talked to. I have to walk to the agriculture side of campus and talk to them and learn about what they think of the problem. It has been really cool to see the different perspectives.”
Egeland says she has gained a national network she would have never had. She also touts the growing experience necessary to completing the internship. “I went into this in the fall thinking that we are going to solve world hunger in a year,” Egeland says. “A few weeks into it, I realized it’s about that for sure, but it’s also about finding innovative ways to make more food with less land. It’s hard thinking about solving this problem and working remotely. But the takeaway has been doing more with less—not if my proposal will work or not.”