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AG School Develops Cool, Sustainable Way to Keep Veggies Fresher

Middle Tennessee State University’s School of Agribusiness and Agriscience has developed a sustainable, cool way to make the MTSU Farm’s harvest of vegetables and fruits remain fresher longer.

Two 10-foot-by-10-foot air-conditioned walk-in packing sheds have been built on the approximately 450-acre farm property on Guy James Road, just off Halls Hill Pike in Rutherford County, about six miles east of campus.

With more crops being harvested, the packing sheds are holding more produce such as tomatoes, lettuce, onions and watermelons, keeping them cooler — and fresher — for this summer’s Student Farmers Market Fridays at the Horticulture Center and again for the fall sale of harvested items from the summer crops.

Wheels began turning when Dr. Warren Gill, the department chair, worked with state Commissioner Ken Givens to secure $34,300 in state agriculture enhancement money. MTSU’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs then “matched it to help the student program and allowed us to sponsor student research,” Gill said.

Daniel Messick, president of the MTSU Plant and Soil Science Club, conceived a geothermal idea for the packing sheds, making it more ecologically friendly, Gill said. Messick and assistant professor Dr. Nate Phillips then collaborated on a $27,000 Clean Energy Grant from the Division of Student Affairs to make the project happen.

“I did a lot of research (about the geothermal method) and organized interviews (with prospective companies),” said Messick, a junior ag-science major and environmental science minor from Shelbyville, Tenn. “Dr. Phillips and I came together on the proposal.”

“The student became the teacher” is how Gill summarizes Messick’s creative thinking.

“This is hands-on learning,” said Tim Redd, MTSU’s Farm Lab director. “This is a student lab, pure and simple.”

“It gives the students more access to experiential learning — what they’ll see in their future careers,” Phillips added.

The university contracted with Precision Air Inc. of Murfreesboro to build the packing sheds and provide the geothermal method: digging a 6 1/2-inch hole 300 feet into the ground adjacent to the shop facility housing the packing sheds. It brings a constant 55-degree temperature to the cooling units.

“It’s 70 percent more efficient and doubled the lifespan of the cooling unit,” Messick said.

“This has been a great experience,” Messick added. “It’s nice to have a part in something that’s going to be here a long time. We have a more efficient way to sustain the cost on running the unit.”

Along with the dual packing sheds, an adjacent “little white building – the original dairy,” Gill said – houses a “four-unit packing line with a conveyor-fed brush washer, sponge absorber and rotating packing table that can be used for a variety of different vegetables, and has improved efficiency in preparing our produce for the market,” Phillips said.

Gill added that it’s also home to the ‘Honey House,’ which will have equipment to harvest honey soon.

For more information, contact Phillips by calling 615-494-8985 or e-mail Or Randy Weiler, MTSU News and Public Affairs, at 615-898-2919.

Phillips | Newswise Science News
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