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Powell Scholars developed the Verdevis system for growing microgreens and wrote a book about it so that others can build the system and grow microgreens.

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Student invention grows microgreens for food banks and classrooms

Jun 7, 2016

Students in University of the Pacific's Powell Scholars Program have developed a microgreen growing system that can help feed the hungry and serve as a learning tool for schoolchildren.

The Verdevis system is already growing nutritious food for The Resource Connection Food Bank in San Andreas and was introduced to schoolchildren at Toyon Middle School in Calaveras County.

In development for a year and a half, the Verdevis system can grow a crop of kale, radish, red amaranth or mustard seedlings in as little as five days. What's more, the Powell Scholars have made plans for the system and microgreen growing instructions available free to the public at Verdevis.org.

"Devising a system that is simple, elegant, and effective required a lot of iteration over the past 16 months," said Nasser Saleh, a Powell Scholar and mechanical engineering major who has been involved in the project from its advent. "We had to research a variety of designs, materials, and lighting options."


Time-lapse video of two Powell Scholars assembling the Verdevis system.


After one week in the Verdevis system, the seeds quickly grew
into nutritious greens.

The Pacific students challenged themselves in fall 2014 to create an intensive growing system for providing fresh food year-round that is environmentally sustainable, water efficient, portable, durable, scalable, cost effective, productive and intuitive to use. They ended up with a system that grows nutritious food in just a few days using relatively little water. Verdevis has been used in San Andreas since December to grow microgreens and food bank officials said there has been great interest by their patrons in the fresh food. More recently, the food bank has also used the system to accelerate the germination of seedlings for transplanting to its outdoor garden.

The Powell Scholars, which make up students from a variety of majors across Pacific, wrote "Cultivating Solutions" about the Verdevis system. The book was written for use in schools and deals with sustainability, renewable resources, the biology behind plant growth, and other scientific aspects of the system. It's available on Amazon.com and in a PDF version on the Verdevis website.

"The book encourages readers to experiment with and improve the invention," said Courtney Banh, a computer science major and one of the 19 Powell Scholars who contributed to the book.  "While we generally like the materials we used in the device, the way it looks, and the way it functions, we also know that other creative minds can make it even better."

Students in the Toyan Middle School are using the device to complement their outdoor garden, and as an educational tool. Kevin Hesser, teacher and garden coordinator at the Toyon Middle School, views the system as the "next generation science unit" and wants to see its use spread to other middle and high school classrooms throughout the state.

"With hope the process we used to conceive of the system, build it and distribute it will inspire others to craft innovative solutions to the many problems faced in the world," said business major John Livingstone.

The Powell Scholars Program is the premier academic merit program at University of the Pacific. Endowed by Robert and Jeannette Powell in 2009, it is made up of academically talented students in majors throughout the university who value leadership, scholarship, creativity and service. The Program provides students with funding to support tuition, study abroad and research and creative projects.

Media contacts:
Nasser Saleh, n_saleh@u.pacific.edu
Courtney Banh, c_banh@u.pacific.edu

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