Progress report for YENC20-144
Through the existing infrastructure of the U of I Sustainable Student Farm, Illinois 4-H, and Horticulture educators will collaborate to deliver engaging educational opportunities to college and high school-age youth around the state of Illinois. Utilizing FarmBot open-source precision gardening technology, we are supporting U of I Crop Science & Agriculture Education students to develop the functional and educational capacity of the FarmBot for application in school and community-based settings. Working with Illinois 4-H, the students will assist in creating a guide for hands-on and virtual learning to youth interested in precision agriculture, digital agriculture, and the application of sustainable technology in food systems.
The majority of the allotted budget was spent to support our Crop Science student intern who was responsible for the prototyping, development, and field testing of the FarmBot capabilities as well as compiling a comprehensive guide for field use for our 5 participating partner sites around Illinois. The remaining portion of the funds was utilized providing material support (gardening supplies, tools & seeds) to our partner sites, which included:
- University of Illinois NOBEL Project – An initiative through the U of I School of Medicine geared at engaging African American youth in several Illinois cities. The FarmBot equipment and programmatic support were focused specifically on the Pembrook community in Kankakee County, IL. An estimated 30 youth will be participating in a virtual 6-week program beginning in June 2021.
- Elevate 217 – A recently established non-profit in rural Mattoon, IL focused on encouraging the growth of small businesses and local entrepreneurship particularly for rural youth through innovative programming both virtually and on-site. They have a FarmBot located inside of a large retail mall and are planning to utilize grow lights for indoor food production. Our team coordinates with students from Mattoon High School in the construction and use of the equipment. Completion of construction is expected in June 2021 with youth programming beginning in July 2021.
- Jackey Joyner Kersee Center– East St. Louis, IL: The JJK Center is an after school program for East St. Louis youth that offers a wide variety of academic, athletic, and life-skills training courses. Their FarmBot equipment is located in their urban garden and will be a teaching tool for a group of 15-20 young people interested in sustainable agriculture during the Summer of 2021.
- Urban Transformation Network- Chicago, IL: The Urban Transformation Network’s mission is to support and encourage the establishment of urban gardens on unused land and space while increasing diversity, raising awareness for conservation education, urban agriculture, and wellness, and inspiring and educating youth, adults, and seniors to create an economically sustainable future in their community. They have set up a FarmBot inside of their high-tunnel greenhouse and we are coordinating with their team of youth to complete construction and begin food production in the Summer of 2021.
- The University of Illinois Ag and Biological Engineering Farm – Urbana, IL: In conjunction with a team of professors and graduate students from the ABE Department at the U of I, we are establishing a long-term research site at an indoor greenhouse location on campus where we will be working to identify the intersections between AI and Open Source approaches to the FarmBot technology. This partnership will allow us to continue to create educational content for our pilot sites around Illinois to utilize as they engage youth in their area with the FarmBot equipment.
- Completing the training manual and accompanying video documentation to assist partner sites in constructing and utilizing FarmBot equipment.
- Conduct a statewide webinar on the educational material in July 2021.
- Provide ongoing support to our partner sites in the utilization of FarmBot equipment with their youth programs.
- Collect survey data and feedback at partner sites from program participants and facilitators.
- Build the capacity of the U of I Sustainable Student Farm to reach Illinois youth with hands-on experiences that teach the skills/mindsets necessary to be successful in sustainable agriculture career choices.
- Pilot an educational program that can then be used to reach Illinois 4-H youth around the state in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.
- Allow Illinois 4-H and U of I Extension to reach new audiences with its programming, thereby increasing interest among youth in career/college/life opportunities connected to Sustainable Agriculture.
- Demonstrate success in sustainable agriculture programming that can be replicated state/nationwide.
Educational & Outreach Activities
We are conducting virtual consultations with our partner sites on the logistics of FarmBot installation, management and troubleshooting. We are also consulting with our partner sites on the development of educational activities to highlight the technological and horticultural applications of the equipment.
By the end of August 2021, our training manual will be complete and ready for use by our partner sites. By the end of 2021, we intend to produce a curriculum utilizing the available open-source information on the FarmBot which will lay out the steps for installation as well as several activities which educators can utilize to engage their students in horticulture and STEM related skills. This will be distributed through the U of I Extension network.
Two of our partner sites have requested in-person consultations. As a result of increased vaccination rates, we are able to start planning some in-person visits to the sites where additional demonstration is needed. This will be in Chicago, IL and East St. Louis, IL.
We have hosted an online training for each of our partner sites, with several follow-ups planned for the Summer of 2021 in order to support them in their innovative uses of the curriculum and equipment.
Published Press Articles:
Through our Extension network, we have published one newsletter geared toward educating donors and 4-H program supporters on the work we’re doing with SARE and the FarmBot equipment.
Webinars, Talks and Presentations:
We have presented in our program twice at the U of I Extension Annual conference in front of 200+ Extension educators.
How to utilize STEM skills, specifically coding, in the context of emerging ag technology.
To date, we have had a smaller impact on youth directly than we had planned, primarily as the result of technical challenges which our educator colleagues encountered in the installation and proper management of the technology itself. As a result, much of our time and resources shifted to creating a training guide to house all relevant information and troubleshooting assistance. This document will be shared with our pilot sites at the end of August, 2021.
The support from SARE has allowed us to designate and support a knowledgeable point person from the U of I Crop Science Department to serve as our Food Systems Intern. In doing so, this has increased our exposure more generally on campus and specifically in departments that have a sustainability focus. As a result of this collaboration, we were also selected as part of a team for the AIFARMS Initiative on campus at the U of I, funded by a NIFA grant.
I received fantastic support from Erin Schneider in the reporting process. It made the whole thing much easier.