From Greenhouses to Green Offices

IAA Students Help Sustain Campus

September 26, 2013

What happens when harsh chemicals, pollutants, and toxins penetrate the air in UMD campus offices and workspaces? Sickness spreads.  And what better way to combat that sickness than by enlisting the help of Institute of Applied Agriculture (IAA) students.  With the help of IAA students and Ken Ingram, adviser for landscape management and ornamental horticulture, the university campus is getting better—one plant at a time.  Ingram is working with Aynsley Toews, who manages the green office program in the Office of Sustainability.   The green office program recognizes and rewards faculty and staff for going green, an endeavor that many at UMD are undertaking.

“Around 130 offices have participated in the program since it started in fall 2011, which makes it a great success,” said Toews, who enthusiastically noted that once people make certain environmentally friendly changes in their office, they get a framed certificate to display.

“It’s a totally voluntary program,” said Toews. “But we give a lot of incentives and tools so that people can easily make these changes happen.” She further explained that the sustainability office crafted bronze, silver, and gold checklists for campus offices to follow. Adding indoor office plants is one of the “to-do’s” on the silver list.

“This all started when I had a student come to me and say that he wanted to grow plants and hand them out to faculty and dorms,” Toews said. “And that’s when, after some research, I found that the best person to go to was Ken Ingram!”

Ingram loved the idea.   “We’re always looking for applied projects for IAA students to do that benefit campus,” says Ingram.  “This was perfect!”

Using the project as a teaching opportunity in his Introduction to Plant Science class, Ingram had his students pot pothos, spider plants, aloe, and indoor palms. “These plants are pretty easy to maintain, and we know they’re great for reducing chemicals in the air because NASA provided us with that specific data,” said Ingram.

After the students potted the plants, they moved them to the greenhouse where the plants will grow until they are ready for distribution.  “This is also a lesson in production schedules,” says Ingram.

Marvin Martinez, IAA first-year student and Turfgrass major, “This is cool and fun. I think it’s neat that these plants will go into people’s offices and help the environment!”

The next step will be to hold a plant distribution day, and Toews hopes the IAA students will be available to educate people on how to care for their new plants.  Toews is thrilled that so many people are coming together to work for one specific cause---a greener campus.  “Students bring so much creativity and energy here,” she beamed. “This is exactly the sort of thing we should be doing more of.”