City student grows good idea

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Growroom promotes local food

A St. Albert student is turning heads with a big ball of green called a Growroom – an innovative structure that could bring more local food to cities.

University of Alberta students got to check out the first Growroom built outside of Denmark this week at the Van Vliet Complex next to the Butterdome.

The big green ball was built by a team of students led by St. Albert urban planning student Hayley Wasylycia as part of Urban Week, a celebration of city planning and urban agriculture she helped organize.

“We have huge numbers of people that don’t have access to healthy food,” she said, when asked how this project fit into urban design.

“What we want to do is create more opportunities for people to grow their own food so they can access healthy food (at prices that) are affordable for them.”

The Growroom is a multi-tiered sphere made of burlap and plywood designed to grow a large number of plants in a small space.

Wasylycia said the structure was originally designed by the Space10 design lab in Denmark, which is affiliated with Ikea.

Space10 spokesperson Simon Caspersen said that his team built the first Growroom last year for an arts festival in Copenhagen to encourage people to grow local food in a beautiful, sustainable way. It drew immediate international interest, with many people wanting to buy the structure.

“But it doesn’t make sense to promote local food production and then start shipping the Growroom across oceans and continents,” Caspersen said.

Space10 instead released the plans for free online and encouraged people to build their own. He confirmed that the Wasylycia and her team were the first squad outside of Copenhagen he knew of to build a Growroom.

Wasylycia said she first heard of the Growroom through a newsletter, and decided it would make a great addition to Urban Week. She got the plywood for the structure at a discount from the St. Albert Rona and the plants donated from the Enjoy Centre.

The team used a computer-guided cutting machine to carve the structure’s components and assembled it in about a day, Wasylycia said. They needed no nails and few tools, aside from a mallet.

“It’s really just as easy as putting together a piece of Ikea furniture,” she said.

As is often the case with Ikea furniture, the finished product didn’t end up looking exactly like it did in the instructions. The template for the cutting machine was missing a piece, so Wasylycia and the team had to design and carve it themselves. They also added support struts out of concern that the structure might roll away.

The Growroom was currently furnished with ferns and spider plants, but the team hoped to use it to grow food such as tomatoes or strawberries, Wasylycia said.

Stepping into the Growroom is like walking into a lush, deep forest, or possibly a salad mixer. Green ferns surround you on all sides, shading you from the noise and bustle of the outside world. One can easily imagine it being filled with fragrant flowers or sweet berries instead, all within arm’s reach.

Enjoy Centre co-owner Jim Hole, who had yet to see the structure when contacted, said it could be a good place to grow herbs or fragrant plants indoors.

“I just love the fact that you’re surrounded by plants.”

Wasylycia said this structure could promote community by bringing people together to build and care for it. Schools could use it to teach about plants, and hospitals could use it to treat patients (research suggests exposure to plants can have health benefits).

Although many students said they didn’t want to see the Growroom go, Wasylycia said the team had to take it down Friday and sell the plants. The team hoped to use cash from that sale to fund the Growroom’s resurrection at a new permanent home, possibly the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

Growroomyeg.com has details on the project.

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About Author

Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.