Assessing the Feasibility of Microgrid Supported Open Hydroponics (MSOHCC) for A Resilient Fresh Food Supply in SIDS; The Application of Innovative Dialogue to Microgrid Supported Open Hydroponic Crop Cultivation (MSOHCC) in Small-Island Developing States (SIDS)

Hiscott, Hannah, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Neeley, Kathryn, Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Louis, Garrick, Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia

In the Caribbean, there reside a number of small islands classified as SIDS, or small island developing states. These areas are battered by tropical storms that worsen each year as a result of climate change. The storms in conjunction with sea-level rise devastate the infrastructure on Caribbean SIDS, particularly the agricultural system. The Micro-grid Supported Open Hydroponics Crop Cultivation (MSOHCC) project aims to create a solution for the devastation of food supply in SIDS by creating a non-grid-reliant solution that produces crops rapidly. However, as American university students, the team does not have the same lived experiences as those who reside in SIDS. For this reason, it was important to use an STS framework, in particular, that of contextual innovation, to create a project that best addresses the needs of the citizens of these islands. The team chose to focus on the Bahamas for the technical project, giving a specific geographical area to focus on in the STS portion of research.
The technical portion of my thesis produced varied results. The team faced many challenges throughout the course of our work, such as setbacks due to COVID-19, losing a team member for a semester, and setbacks due to climate. This led to many lessons about how projects actually work and ended up being valuable although perhaps not traditionally productive. In our spring semester, the team was able to construct our prototype and begin planting crops of lettuce. While we haven’t been able to actually harvest, we have seen promising results. In future works, we hope to expand upon this, and see how our project lines up with conventional crop cultivation (CCC).
In my STS research, I explore the work of Arnold Pacey, particularly his concept of Innovative Dialogue. Pacey sets up a framework for applying works created in one society to that of another society. He explains in his book The Culture of Technology how engineers often create solutions to problems with little to no cultural context. This is problematic, because solutions need to be solving the actual problems faced by societies, not simply the perceived problems. This framework was easy to apply to the technical portion of my thesis, as we are engineers and students with little initial background knowledge on the Bahamas, especially the culture of rural farmers in the Bahamas. For this reason, it was important to do background studies to have a better understanding of the impact we might have.
These projects were fully symbiotic. My knowledge gained through STS research allowed me to have far more context when doing design work. Engineers are often guided solely by technical progress and sometimes lack the breadth of perspective to consider the cultural context of the work they are creating. By utilizing the work of Pacey, I was able to create meaningful technical work that actually would have a feasible application and give net good to the community of rural farmers in the Bahamas. By keeping costs low, and materials simple, we were able to create a meaningful project that wasn’t impossible to implement.
This thesis would not have been possible without the help of my group members Henry Quach, Harrison Mazanec and Sahil Mehta. Nor would it be possible without the guidance of Bevin Etienne, Leonard Githinji, Manuel Lerdau, Garrick Louis and graduate researcher Boyang Lu. Additional thanks to Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute, Firehouse Spice Company, Babylon Micro-Farms, University of Virginia 3 Cavaliers, and National Science Foundation EAGER.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
hydroponics, Arnold Pacey, Small-island Developing States

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
Technical Advisor: Garrick Louis
STS Advisor: Kathryn Neeley
Technical Team Members: Hannah Hiscott, Harrison Mazanec, Sahil Mehta, Henry Quach

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