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New technology trend, living green wall, takes root at Morrisville State

MORRISVILLE, NY—A new green trend has taken root on the Morrisville State campus—and it’s growing vertically out of a wall, without soil, in the college’s crop greenhouse.

The living green wall, comprised of 100 tropical plants and ferns, was recently installed by EcoWalls, a national and leading firm in green wall systems, with the help of students in Morrisville State’s horticulture and landscape architectural studies programs.

The three-by-12-foot hydroponic system provides all of the plants’ needs right on the wall where they are growing in pockets of felt in a soil-less rooting medium with a closed recirculating irrigation system feeding them water and nutrients.

A versatile means of growing both edible and ornamental plants in interior and exterior environments, living green walls are a current environmentally sustainable practice in the horticulture and landscape industries.

It’s a lesson Aida Khalil, associate professor of horticulture and design, wanted to instill in her students when she applied for and successfully obtained a grant from the New York State Floral Industry.

“Through this system, students are learning what it takes for plants to grow on a wall’s vertical plane, and how rooting can take place without soil if nutrients are provided in the irrigation system.” she said. “Our horticulture and landscape architecture students and faculty/staff will be able to learn more about “vertical gardens” in terms of plant selection, culture, design, and hydroponic systems maintenance.”

Khalil’s educational goals reach beyond teaching students about new technologies.

“This project provides them with a foundation of knowledge about sustainable practices in the industry and also exposes them to entrepreneurial niches in the field,” she said.

Ben Mosher didn’t know much about hydroponics when he started taking horticulture classes at Morrisville State. That’s all changing for the horticulture landscape management student from Baldwinsville, who is among those monitoring the system.

“It’s one thing to learn it from a textbook, but this has brought learning to life and we are actually experiencing and becoming a hands-on part of it,” said Jen Zidzik, a horticulture business management student from New Jersey.

It’s adding another feather in the cap of Tom Reilly, who has taken an avid interest in all types of growing. “This goes beyond studying theory,” said the horticulture production student from Utica. ”I like to get involved and here (at Morrisville) you jump right into it.”

Still in the experimental stages, students monitor the living architecture on a daily basis. Part of the learning process is working out the kinks.

Because the plants have gone from growing in soil to water, some of them are experiencing transplant shock. Students are responsible for determining those types of problems then devising a plan to fix them.

“We are experimenting now what plants work best. It is all part of the trial,” said Collin Kehoe, of Hamlin, a horticulture business management student.

The lessons are especially helpful to Mosher, who plans to take over and expand his family’s small nursery business in Baldwinsville.

In the meantime, he is taking in valuable lessons through his classes, like how to run and market a business.

He’s taken a vested interest in the living wall project and learning all about its benefits which include environmental aesthetics, energy savings, pollution filtration, air quality improvement, building insulation, noise reduction, and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

An entrepreneurial aspect has also come to light.

“This is a small-scale version of an industry on the rise,” Kehoe said. “You don’t see a lot of this around yet, but some day it could be a booming industry.”

“People are now making money by doing this,” Khalil said. “This is preparing our students for the industry and they can go out and design these systems some day on a residential or commercial-scale.”

Morrisville offers an associate degree in horticulture with concentrations in floral design, horticulture production, landscape development/management, or general transfer, an associate degree in landscape architectural studies, and a bachelor degree in horticulture business management. State-of-the art facilities include modern greenhouses, landscape design studios, an outdoor plant nursery, and a student-run floral shop.

Morrisville State sets the world in motion for students. Curriculums are enriched with applied learning and pave the way for opportunity at both Morrisville and Norwich campuses. An action-oriented, interactive learning lab, the college is a national leader in technology. Lauded for its exemplary, innovative and effective community service programs, the college was named to the 2012 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Visit www.morrisville.edu to experience Morrisville in motion.