The landscaping outside of Bragaw Hall has gone “green.” What started as a capstone project for a member of the EcoVillage turned into a successful sustainability movement at NC State.
Andrew Harrell, a junior studying biological engineering, became interested in compost tea after participating in the Spring Break 2014 Sustainable Planning and Urban Development Sightseers (SPUDS) trip. Members of the EcoVillage visited Boston, Mass. where participants went on a sustainability tour at Harvard and learned about organic lawn management.
“A big aspect of that program was compost tea,” Harrell said. “I wanted to test if compost tea could serve as an alternative for traditional fertilizers on NC State’s campus.”
Harrell, along with the help of fellow EcoVillagers Ben Sterling, a junior studying civil engineering, and Greg Sheets, a junior studying agriculture and environmental technology, created a test through a second-year EcoVillage capstone project. Harrell divided a small site in front of Bragaw Hall into three sections: compost tea, control and fertilizer. Comparison studies were done among the three sections to see which section performed the best. The team used soil tests, soil slices and pictures to track the performance.
“From what I’ve learned about compost tea, I’d like to do further research investigating the effect of compost tea on soil infiltration rates to contribute to the storm-water management field,” Harrell said. “Hopefully everyone that heard about the project learned that sustainability can always be more integrated into our lives, including the grass we walk on.”
Sterling helped construct the brewer, make and apply the compost tea and collect soil samples for testing. He said the best part of working with Harrell and Sheets was their extensive knowledge of soils and concept. “There was definitely a lot I could learn from both of them,” he said.
Harrell, Sheet and Sterling also worked with Whitney Stevens, the grounds maintenance planner for Grounds Management, who sponsored the compost tea project. Grounds Management provided equipment and materials, including the compost, materials to construct the brewer, shovels for sampling, a backpack sprayer for application, stakes and rope for designating the three different plots and the site to apply the compost tea. Stevens said the staff coordinated with Harrell’s group throughout the process to ensure their fertilization activities did not affect their work and that their work did not disrupt the mowing schedules.
“We have been interested in experimenting with different types and methods of applying compost, but finding the labor resources for research can be difficult, especially during our busy growing season,” Stevens said. “So, it was really wonderful that [Harrell] and his group did the bulk of the work.”
Harrell’s group researched, planned, built and applied the tea with limited support requirements from Grounds, according to Stevens.
“I appreciate how receptive campus faculty and staff were to helping with the project,” Harrell said. “Having the project in front of Bragaw Hall was also nice to hear all of the students and others interested in the initiative.”
The compost tea project was successful because the tea-treated plot showed more improvement than the untreated plot and was close behind when compared to the fertilizer-treated plot. “[The results showed] that the tea does have a positive effect, and we look forward to more research on improving the effects further,” Stevens said. “We are always thrilled to collaborate with students and hope we can continue to work together to achieve our mutual goals.”
The successful project would not have been possible without Harrell’s involvement with the EcoVillage. Harrell first joined because he wanted to be a part of a community or group filled with people who shared similar interests.
“The EcoVillage and Living and Learning Village concept seemed like a good fit for me, making it more accessible to be involved with the environment and sustainability by living with other passionate students,” he said.
Harrell’s favorite part about the EcoVillage is the friends he’s made and conversations he’s had about sustainability. He made many connections and is involved in many places on campus because of the EcoVillage. He and other EcoVillage alumni are starting a club — the Student Sustainability Resource Coalition (SSRC) — to form a community of campus organizations with a unified voice for sustainability at NC State. He is also a member of the student chapter of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
EcoVillage also provides many benefits for students, including mentors to help students transition into the University, academic support through course study groups and alternate spring break and field trip opportunities.
“The best part about EcoVillage is getting the chance to meet like-minded individuals from all different majors,” Sterling said. “When you are constantly surrounded by others that share your passion for sustainability, you can learn so much from each other and easily collaborate to make constructive change on campus.”
The Living and Learning Villages are a great way to take advantage of what University Housing and NC State have to offer.