Florida Polytechnic University's high-tech garden seizing the future of agriculture

Mar 28, 2018
Florida Polytechnic University's high-tech garden seizing the future of agriculture
Florida Poly students develop "smart farming" technologies through a high-tech garden on campus.

A group of students at Florida Polytechnic University has figured out a way to use a garden to research solutions to feeding our planet’s future population and help provide fresh food to Polk County families in need.

The TRAC (Technology, Research, Agriculture and Community) group has spent the past two years building a garden on the university’s campus, aimed at using technology and innovation to increase the quality and quantity of agricultural production. The students showcased the garden Thursday, March 22, to members of the community, including Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

“Two years ago, this was just a plot of land,” said Enrique Hernandez, a senior and electrical engineering major from Tampa, Florida. “We don’t think of this as just a garden. It’s a multi-disciplinary laboratory where we can all work together and use our knowledge and skill sets to move agriculture and technology together.”

The garden will eventually feature sensor technology that will measure factors such as moisture content in the soil, PH levels, salinity, etc. The research will ultimately lead to maximizing agricultural production by using minimal space, water, energy and labor.

One of TRAC’s partners is Seed2Source, a division of Sustainable Energy, Inc. “We want Florida Poly to be our technology driver as a public-private partnership, and we want the students to be involved to make that happen,” said founder and CEO Jennifer Waxman-Loyd. “To know we can partner with a university that could potentially be the technology driver for our operations to keep us competitive with the most efficient growing technologies is pretty exciting.”

The garden’s impact goes much further than just being an outdoor lab. Each Friday, a weekly harvest is donated to the nearby Eloise community to provide fresh, organic produce to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.

“We’re coming up with a solution one family at a time,” says Beverly Butler, who manages the garden and coordinates the weekly donation. “It bridges a gap, and these families now have access to vegetables.”

The project’s next research phase received more good news, Thursday when the Winter Haven Rotary Club made a $2,000 gift to TRAC.

“It is great to donate to this garden project because of the sustainability the school is trying to achieve through this volunteer program with the students,” said Gannon Olmert, the rotary club’s president-elect.

Dr. Nicoleta Sorloaica-Hickman is an associate professor of Physics at Florida Poly with a focus that includes sustainability programs. She said the students are the driving force behind the garden.

“They initiate the projects and have only one goal, which is to leave a green community behind and build a legacy.”

Lydia Guzman
Assistant Director of Communications