A Floating Farm for Hydroponic Crop Cultivation in Small Island Developing States & Aquaculture as a Tool for Economic Development in North America’s Great Lake Basin

Sprincis, Derek, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Louis, Garrick, EN-CEE, University of Virginia

The capstone project aims to modify and finalize an existing hydroponic crop cultivation (HCC) system, called the "Fold-out-Farm," to operate on a floating platform in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that are susceptible to food insecurity due to natural and economic factors. Specifically, when SIDS are hit by natural disasters, crops and agricultural infrastructure can be severely damaged, causing many people to suffer from a lack of both food access and job opportunity. The Fold-out-Farm is completely self-sufficient – it has its own water collection system, solar-based power generation, and on-board growing pods. The unit can float to combat disaster consequences from incidents such as hurricanes. Specifically, the project is working to add a rainwater harvesting system and validate the structural integrity of the unit during a flood. The farm is designed to use off-the-shelf nutrient solutions to grow a variety of crops and the team will find the most suitable option. The team will also expand the market niche for the HCC system by determining the optimal use for the product in urban food deserts, refugee camps, and rooftop gardens. The approach taken has involved communication and research to understand the needs of those who could benefit from a Fold-out-Farm, as well as various testing methods for crops and structure of the unit. Testing has been done through expert surveys, estimation of structural performance, simulation software analysis, and evaluation of crop yield from the unit relative to a control crop grown in soil. Results will be continuously measured, first in testing the system’s ability to deliver water, sun and nutrients to growing modules, its crop yield, and stability in an open water test in the Rivanna river, and finally when presenting the design to sponsors and potential users. Future researchers may build upon these findings to further improve the unit and its potential use to ensure that it is understandable and acceptable to the communities who will be using it. The project will have a market-ready product capable of reducing food insecurity in SIDS and potentially in urban food deserts, refugee camps and rooftop gardens in land scarce areas.

The Science, Technology, and Society (STS) report details how the development of an aquaculture industry in the Great Lakes basin of North America can diversify food production and increase food security in the Midwest region of the United States. The report answers how aquaculture can be economically viable in the Midwest and why creating a thriving aquaculture industry in the Midwest would be advantageous for the region by increasing economic activity and food security. An analysis of a Midwest aquaculture industry through the lenses of actor network theory and technological momentum, two sociological frameworks, will be included. An outline of steps that can be taken by federal and state governments by creating an “open for business” posture, reducing regulations, and passing several tax exemptions that would incentivize investment in a Midwest aquaculture industry is discussed in addition to an analysis of general economic feasibility.

The common theme of economic development, resiliency and sustainability ties these two projects together. Agriculture and aquaculture are both essential components of food production systems and play a vital role in ensuring food security and economic development in developing countries. Moreover, both fields are subject to socio-technical influences, and their success is heavily dependent on factors such as government policies, technological advancements, and social and cultural factors. Therefore, the technical work in agriculture and the STS research in aquaculture complement each other, providing a holistic approach to understanding and addressing the complex socio-economic challenges faced concerning economic well-being.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Hydroponics, Food Security, Aquaculture, Agriculture, Climate Change, Economic Resilience

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
Technical Advisor: Garrick Louis
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook
Technical Team Members: Ethan A. Gerlach, Arthur Hoang, Saffiata Kamara, Anwar Longi, & Ethan W. Thurmond

Issued Date: