Published: Aug. 5, 2013

Creating cleaner dirt

By: Alex Barhorst Residential and Hospitality Services barhors1@rhs.msu.eduContact(s): Tom Oswald Communications and Brand Strategy

MSU students and faculty are cleaning up farming with worms.

The group is involved in a program called RISE, The Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment. It is researching and implementing vermicomposting in a greenhouse by Bailey Hall.

Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to turn food waste into nutrient-rich organic fertilizer.

“Worms are incredible creatures that add fertility to soil,” said Laurie Thorp, director of RISE. “The Bailey urban farm is a model to be used across the state and across the world.”

The Bailey greenhouse is funded by MSU Residential and Hospitality Services; the food produced in the greenhouse is sold to chefs across campus.

Elizabeth Brajevich, a sophomore undergraduate student studying fisheries and wildlife, wrote and received a $5,000 grant to fund her effort to reduce cafeteria food waste. She said working with graduates and faculty has been a valuable experience.

“This project brings faculty, staff, students and administrators together to work on an innovative solution to a campus problem,” Brajevich said. “I would not have been able to smoothly execute this project without support from RISE upperclassman and graduate students.”

Brooke Comer is a graduate student involved in RISE. She is studying sustainable agriculture, and said the program attracted her to MSU. Her research revolves around vermicomposting, and her work in the greenhouse puts her studies to the test.

“It’s really great that some of the research that I’m doing is being implemented,” Comer said. “It’s all about closing that food cycle loop.”

Thorp said people today are losing sight of the food cycle loop. She said thinking of agriculture as a linear system is not sustainable, and that mentality is what the RISE program aims to change.

“It’s all about creating relationships that have been severed,” Thorp said. “You’re not just a consumer. You’re part of a greater food web.”