Mercyhurst Magazine Spring 2022

Project leader Shannon Meyers ‘20, top right, introduces students at Diehl School to the Tower Garden initiative. Mercyhurst Tower Gardens bloom across Erie County

They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but in the case of the Tower Garden (TG) project Mercyhurst University is piloting to raise fresh produce indoors any season of the year, another round of funds has come to harvest. Out of the university’s original TG program, established in early 2021 to test the feasibility and sustainability of using TGs to address local food insecurity, comes a $9,900 grant from Erie Insurance to fund an outgrowth initiative called the Tower Garden Lending Program. The money is earmarked for the purchase of eight TGs with growing supplies and accessories that will be loaned to interested Erie County K-12 schools and local organizations, said Mercyhurst alumna and Healthy Futures AmeriCorps VISTA member Shannon Meyers '20, who is overseeing the TG program. “The university also provides resources and support to assist with the implementation, setup, maintenance, and overall facilitation of the program,” Meyers said. Currently, the university has one garden on loan to its community school, Diehl Elementary, four at the downtown YMCA teen center, and one each at the Multicultural Resource Center and the Booker T. Washington Center. TGs are vertical garden structures that utilize aeroponic technology, which is the process of growing through an air or mist environment. They can grow a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and herbs year-round.

With a Mercyhurst Sustainability Grant, the university purchased three TGs, which average 5 to 6 feet tall and are surrounded by LED lights on timers. Each TG is equipped with a lower reservoir holding water that, through use of a pump motor and tube system, rains water onto the plants. Collectively, there are 92 ports through which the plants grow. The process takes around 30 to 40 days from seed to harvest. Meyers said providing produce to those on campus through a Tower Garden Campus Supported Agriculture (CSA) program has been well received. The overarching goal of the project, however, has always been to introduce the towers into the community – including organizations serving the poorest segments of the local population – and use them in th e f ght against food insecurity. As with the Tiny Forest, the Tower Garden program began before the university’s commitment to Laudato si’ but is emblematic of Mercyhurst’s service to others. In the words of Colin Hurley, executive director of community engagement and sustainability manager, “Laudato si’ challenges us to think about supporting and serving others and our planet in bold and interconnected ways so we may realize a future of greater human f ourishing, particularly being mindful of the most vulnerable on earth.”


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