For Graduation Donation, College Contributes to Two UW Farm Projects at CUH

For its annual gift to the graduating class this year, the College of the Environment is partnering with the Campus Sustainability Fund (CSF) to help fund two CSF projects at the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH): planting pollinator habitats to create suitable habitat for local pollinating insects, and installing a composting toilet to support more than 180 student farmers and volunteers!

The College decided to contribute to these two projects based on the recommendation of its Student Advisory Council and a vote by graduating students. Read more about each project below!

Pollinator Habitats
This project involves planting and installing pollinator habitats at the UW Farm. Specifically, the UW Farm will design and plant a hedgerow along its southern boundary to create suitable habitat for local pollinating insects, enhancing the biodiversity of the surrounding Union Bay Natural Area and student food production at the UW Farm. The hedgerow will be composed of woody perennial plant species that will act primarily as pollinator habitat, providing forage, shelter and, most importantly, overwintering habitat for insects.

UW students who work and volunteer at the farm will have the opportunity to help plant the vegetation over the coming year. They will learn how to care for the habitats into future years: primarily trimming and maintenance of perennial shrubs, removing weeds that grow into the area, and planting replacement plants as necessary. Teens and young adults from Seattle Youth Garden Works will also be involved in the installation and future maintenance of the pollinator habitats.

The total award for this project was $750, and you can contact Nicolette Neumann with any questions.

Composting Toilet
The lack of a bathroom on the worksite at the UW Farm has negatively impacted productivity and disrupted workflow (individuals have to stop work and leave the site to use the nearest restrooms), disrupted programing on the farm, and especially impeded access to any bathroom on weekends (the nearest bathrooms are locked on the weekend, a time when the farm has routine volunteer hours).

So the installation of this composting toilet—arriving in a few weeks!—at CUH will help support more than 180 student farmers and volunteers working at the UW Farm, and more than 500 student visitors to the site annually. Yet the farm will not be the only beneficiary, by any means. An outdoor bathroom will provide an indispensable resource and greatly benefit a variety of community and university groups that operate adjacent to the farm, including neighborhood visitors to the Union Bay Natural Area and CUH during daylight hours; participants in the neighboring Seattle Tilth Youth Garden Works program; youth participating in other educational programs at CUH; student ecologists and volunteers doing restoration work in UBNA; and UW grounds and maintenance members who frequently do work in the area.

The total award for this project is $33,000, and you can contact UW Farm Manager Sarah
Geurkink with any questions.

Photo © Sarah Geurkink.

Native Plant Nursery: Hoop It Up

Three winters ago, the Society for Ecological Restoration – UW Chapter (SER-UW) started organizing native plant salvages, and by late April they had several burlap sacks filled with leftover plants from restoration projects around campus. SEFS doctoral candidate Jim Cronan remembers checking to see how well those plants were doing when a duck flew out of one of the bags. The fact that a duck family was nesting in a plant bag made them realize they might need a little better storage system, so they decided to organize their first potting party in the spring.

Anna, at right, has made her work on the Native Plant Nursery the subject of her Master of Environmental Horticulture (MEH) thesis project.

Kelly Broadlick, left, and Anna Carragee, who has made her work on the Native Plant Nursery the subject of her Master of Environmental Horticulture (MEH) thesis project.

Initially, SER-UW had only planned a temporary holding for the plants until they could be planted. But that fall, Jim started envisioning a more structured nursery program as a way to hold surplus plants coming in from salvages. SER-UW got permission from the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH) to use some bench space in one of the hoop houses for growing plants, and student employees at CUH started including their plants in the normal watering schedule in spring and summer. Then the native plant propagation class helped by donating prairie plants and setting up an irrigation system in spring 2014, and suddenly the Native Plant Nursery had taken root.

The next year, Jim approached fellow grad students Kelly Broadlick and Amanda Pole about becoming managers of the new nursery. They started recruiting volunteers and raising plants from seeds for the first time, and they ended up salvaging and potting about 1,000 plants that year. By spring 2015, SEFS master’s student Anna Carragee had gotten involved, and the nursery felt some real momentum. “Hey, we’re onto something!” Anna remembers thinking. “So we wrote a Campus Sustainability Fund (CSF) grant application and ended up getting $54,000 to build a permanent hoop house, fund two manager positions, and start propagating more plants.”

With a huge boost from the grant funding, SER-UW was able to formalize the nursery program starting in the fall of 2015. They coordinated a species list, recruited interns for the first time—two per quarter—and decided to organize a restoration work party every Friday to be more consistent and have more people involved. The work parties have really caught on, too. Through the course of 24 scheduled outings, Anna says they have worked with an impressive 248 volunteers, totaling 918 volunteer hours.

In 2008, SEFS alumna Lauren Urgensen (’11, Ph.D.) founded SER-UW to bring together students at UW with a common interest in the science and practice of ecological restoration—and a common goal to restore and sustain the biodiversity of the campus.

In 2008, SEFS alumna Lauren Urgensen (’11, Ph.D.) founded SER-UW to bring together students at UW with a common interest in the science and practice of ecological restoration—and a common goal to restore and sustain the biodiversity of the campus.

The Native Plant Nursery now has an inventory of more than 2,400 plants native to the forests and prairies of Lower Puget Sound, including more than 70 different species. The plants are available for educational purposes and put to real use in restoration projects around campus, including Whitman Walk and Kincaid Ravine. “We like to think of ourselves as an educational hub for horticultural learning, and we want to be like the UW Farm—except for native plants,” says Anna.

To build their inventory and make optimal use of resources, the nursery has made some creative partnerships, including with the King County Native Plant Salvage Program—which was how they originally secured plants for restoration projects—and collecting cuttings from UW gardeners to have them turned into live stakes and cuttings at the nursery. They enjoy a steady stream of volunteers from ESRM 100, which has a component requiring students to volunteer at least once during the quarter. The nursery also sells plants to Restoration Ecology Network capstone students for their projects (their course fees include a budget to purchase plants), as well as to the Restoration of North American Ecosystems class; Anna says they work really hard to grow the species those students want.

Those sales provide a little funding support, and the nursery is actively looking for more ways to keep growing and thriving. In fact, they just hired two new nursery managers (both first-year MEH students), Courtney Bobsin this past winter quarter and Mary-Margaret Greene starting this spring. Courtney and Mary-Margaret are off to a running start, too, as they’re writing a second CSF grant in search of funding for research assistant positions to develop curriculum for the nursery and study how best to develop propagation protocols for the nursery’s plants.

Early construction work at the hoop house site.

Early construction work at the hoop house site.

The biggest development from the original CSF grant, though, was getting a permanent hoop house built at CUH. Working with the honor society of UW’s Construction Management department, Sigma Lambda Chi, they were able to complete the project a couple weeks ago—and we’re not talking about some ordinary garden shed, either. The hoop house is 30 feet by 48 feet, and about 15 feet tall, and it vastly increases the space for the Native Plant Nursery to house its plants and operate. “With the building of the hoop house, we have a home base,” says Anna, “and it helps solidify our identity. We’re really here to stay.”

If you want to check out the newest structure at CUH, the Native Plant Nursery is hosting a ribbon-cutting party on Friday, April 22, from 5 p.m. to sunset. “It’s going to be a big party—and for once not a work party!” says Anna. They’ll have beer and wine, food, raffles and activity stations, and even a live band, Sweet Lou’s Sour Mash. (RSVP today!)

And if you’d like to get even more involved, check out the Native Plant Nursery website, which has an upcoming events page that includes work parties, and you can also email Anna says they always welcome extra hands on restoration projects, and also positive energy. “Showing up, being enthusiastic—that helps us keep going!”

Photos courtesy of the Native Plant Nursery.

2016_04_Native Plant Nursery4

Allison McGrath: Going Solar

A little more than a year ago, Allison McGrath was already plenty busy with her graduate school commitments. In addition to pursuing a joint master’s with the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) and the Evans School of Public Affairs, she was working part-time as a student assistant for the Evans School Executive Education program. But then she stumbled across a volunteer project that paralleled her research interests in water management—and that offered a tremendous opportunity to apply her studies to direct practical use.


McGrath doing her best impression of a solar panel on a hike to Obstruction Point in the Olympics.

“It was kind of random, actually,” says McGrath, who grew up in Ravenna and Kirkland. When her supervisor at the Evans Executive Education Program learned about McGrath’s interest in renewable energy, she introduced her to Stefanie Young, the project manager for UW-Solar, a student-run solar project at the University of Washington. The group’s mission, working with UW Housing and Food Services, is to develop solar installations on buildings throughout campus to promote clean and sustainable power production, improve the resilience of power systems, and reduce the overall carbon footprint of the university.

As it happened, the UW-Solar team was looking for help shoring up a feasibility study to install a new solar array on campus. McGrath had done some policy work involving biofuels, and she was drawn to renewable energy for the same reasons she loves studying water management. “It’s really interesting to me,” she says. “You have to take a systems approach to creating this resilient infrastructure.”

She was sold on the project and joined the team in February 2013. At the time, UW-Solar was operating on a $5,000 grant from the Campus Sustainability Fund (CSF) to complete the feasibility study, and the group was actively applying for grants and other support through several project partners, including CSF, UW Housing and Food Services, and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

McGrath plunged right into the mix, and though she had a little catching up to do with some of the science and technology of solar energy, she loved the challenge.

“It was a fun project to be involved in,” she says. “The nice part is that I started out in the finance and policy side, but it was really interdisciplinary and everyone was invited to participate in every step of the process. Even when stuff went over my head, I was still able to be there and learn about it.”


The solar panel installation at Mercer Court.

One of the most important steps was deciding where to build the solar array. As part of the initial feasibility study, UW-Solar had identified about a dozen suitable buildings around campus, including the possibility of retrofitting an older structure. Yet they ultimately selected one of the new Mercer Court dorms, which were built with the foresight to include infrastructure for solar panels—including electrical closets on the roof instead of in the basement—even though the cost of installing the panels had been prohibitive at the time.

After months of fundraising and outreach, UW-Solar cleared that cost hurdle in spectacular fashion, raising an incredible $174,900, which was more than enough to kick off a full-scale pilot project.

Even with the funds in hand, the stakes were still extremely high to prove the long-term viability of solar energy on campus. “We chose Mercer because we thought it was going to be the most successful,” says McGrath. “Since it was a pilot project, there was a lot riding on it.”

The project itself involved installing 178 solar panels on the roof of one dorm building. They are projected to provide a significant power boost—roughly between 30,000 to 40,000 kilowatt hours a day, or a quarter of the building’s energy demands. It’s a fixed array and is expected to last decades, and it should pay for itself—including the cost of construction—in energy savings in as little as eight years. Plus, though it might seem counterintuitive in Seattle, the rainy weather actually helps keep the panels clear of dust and operating efficiently. In other words, says McGrath, solar can definitely thrive in Seattle.

Construction began on March 10, and the solar panels are now fully installed and up and running. In fact, in early April solar power proponents Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Denis Hayes (President and CEO of Bullitt Foundation, as well as founder of Earth Day) attended an official dedication of the array.


Denis Hayes (left) and Governor Inslee at the official dedication of the array in April.

The project, of course, is not over. The array includes a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, a type of industrial control system that will acquire energy and atmospheric data from sensors mounted on the solar panel array. A portion of the grant money is funding a new computer lab, which will provide ongoing research opportunities for computer scientists at UW interested in testing energy data system security. As part of the ongoing educational component, UW-Solar is publishing real-time and historical energy production and savings data online. They also created a time-lapse video of the whole installation process, and they’re visiting classrooms to talk about the project and putting together curricula for other groups that want to take on similar projects.

As for McGrath, she’s returned her full attention to her thesis, which involves assessing the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, originally passed in 1968, and its implementation. She’s been looking at management plans and interviewing folks from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. “I’m deep in the thick of interviewing right now,” she says, and her plan is to defend later this summer.

And when she does graduate, McGrath knows she’ll leave with far more than just her degree. After all, she helped launch a major solar project—an inspiring testament to the will, creativity and leadership of students—that will have an impact on the University of Washington for years to come.

She hadn’t expected such a powerful experience when she started graduate school, but then that’s the nature of serendipity.

“Life is cool that way,” she says.

Want to Get Involved?
McGrath says UW-Solar is always eager for new student volunteers to replace graduating members and help fuel the next big project. There are about 12 students currently involved with the group, and Professor Jan Wittington from the College of Built Environments is the faculty advisor. If you’re interested, check out the group’s Facebook page to hear about project updates and other cool solar-related news, and McGrath encourages you to contact Stefanie Young. “Stefanie is a great project manager,” she says. “She really brings everyone together.”

Photos: ©; panel installation © UW-Solar; Denis Hayes and Governor Jay Inslee © Anil Kapahi and UW-Solar; the UW-Solar team, McGrath at the far right (below) © Anil Kapahi and UW-Solar.


This Friday: Celebrate Earth Day With SER-UW!

This Friday, April 25, the UW Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER-UW) invites you to join them at two events to celebrate Earth Day: One involving your hands in the dirt, and the other involving beers in your belly!

Tabs for Trees

Pacific trillium recently planted at the restoration site.

First, in partnership with the UW Campus Sustainability Fund (CSF), you can join SER-UW at the Whitman Walk Restoration Area from 1 to 4 p.m. to help remove invasive species that have started to creep back into the site. For those of you who just want to learn more about the site, SER-UW will be giving tours to describe their restoration work that has transformed this area from a small patch of forest overrun with invasive species into an example of a biologically rich Puget Sound lowland forest with more than 40 new species added during the past two years!

Snacks and refreshments will be provided for everyone, and CSF will be handing out free totes and water bottles. For those who want to help with some restoration work, they’ll also have gloves and tools available. The Whitman Walk Restoration Area is located right between McCarty and Haggett Halls and the Denny IMA tennis courts.

Then, after some satisfying restoration work, you can relax with a can of Rainer Beer in the courtyard behind Anderson Hall at 5 p.m.! As part of the Earth Day festivities, SER-UW is taking advantage of Rainier’s Tabs for Trees program, for which Rainier will work with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant a new tree for every six beer tabs mailed back to them. So as you slake our thirst, you’ll also be helping promote tree planting and restoration at other locations in the Pacific Northwest!

No need to RSVP—just head out and join the fun at one or both events! And if you have any questions about either activity, email Jim Cronan or Brooke Cassell.

Photo © SER-UW.

Campus Project: Help Restore the Kincaid Ravine Forest!

Our friends at the UW Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER-UW) and EarthCorps passed along word of a few volunteer work parties coming up to help restore Kincaid Ravine to a healthy and beautiful campus forest!

A 2.2-acre urban forest located in the northeast corner of campus, Kincaid Ravine is currently dominated by invasive species and deciduous trees that are coming to the end of their natural lifespan. It is a declining forest that is gradually losing the ability to perform important ecological functions.

Restoration EventsAs part of the process of restoring this forest to health, the first event of the quarter—organized by SER-UW—will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, along the Burke-Gilman Trail under the 45th Street Viaduct. You’ve probably walked or cycled through there countless times, and now you have a chance to get involved and remove some invasive plants. Tools, gloves and refreshments will be provided, so all you have to do is show up ready to dig in!

After this kick-off work party, EarthCorps has partnered with the UW Campus Sustainability Fund to line up five additional opportunities at Kincaid Ravine for the winter and spring quarters. Among the other key partners in this effort are Martha Moritz, a graduate student in Environmental Horticulture who is serving as the student project manager, and SEFS Professors Kern Ewing and Jim Fridley (as well as administrative support from UW Botanic Gardens).

As before, tools, gloves and refreshments will be provided for each event, but EarthCorps asks that you sign up beforehand if you’re able to come.

Saturday, Feb. 22: EarthCorps work party from 10 a.m-2 p.m. Invasive plant removal. Sign up now!

Saturday, March 1: EarthCorps work party from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Planting and mulching. Sign up now!

Thursday, March 6: EarthCorps work party from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Invasive plant removal. Sign up now!

Saturday, March 15: EarthCorps work party from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. This will be the last work party in winter quarter. You’ll be doing a lot of planting and mulching. Sign up now!

Saturday, April 19: EarthCorps Earth Day work party from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. to kick off spring quarter. Sign up now!

Learn more about the Kincaid Ravine restoration project, and please contact Yiyan Ge, volunteer coordinator, or Martha Moritz, student project manager, with any other questions.