Paul Gauthier, associate research scholar in geosciences and the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), is studying how vertical farms — in which food crops are grown indoors on stacked shelves — can be implemented in local communities, particularly in cities. The basis of this project is the successful Princeton Vertical Farming Project (PVFP) Gauthier established in 2017. Now, he is working with the non-profit Isles Inc. based in Trenton, New Jersey, and the 1,200-square-foot Kêr Farms based in Hamilton, New Jersey, to develop a 1,200-square-foot vertical farm and a “food hub” in Mill One, a former industrial building in Trenton renovated by Isles. The goals of the project are to prove the feasibility of expanding vertical farming to former industrial buildings, study the social impacts of vertical farming on underserved communities, and better identify the energy and environmental costs of vertical farms. Most importantly, the farm will serve as a source of fresh food for local residents and be used to teach Trenton and Princeton communities about the benefits of vertical farming and the nutritional benefits of “hyper-local” organic food.
Gauthier will build on the PVFP’s current partnerships with Hopewell Elementary School and Princeton Public Schools to develop an educational program at Isles Youth Institute. The program will allow students to help establish an indoor strawberry farm and learn the necessary skills to become a successful farmer. A comparative research program at each school will evaluate students’ perception of food that they’ve grown. In addition, this project will focus on the design of a collaborative, replicable food-education program (“Meet What You Eat”) for local schools. Partnerships with University programs such as the John C. Bogle '51 Fellows in Civic Service program and Service Focus will provide an ongoing engagement with Mill One that will allow undergraduates to experience a deeper connection to the interdisciplinary nature of food justice and the creation of community initiatives. The off-campus farm also will provide Princeton undergraduates and PEI Summer Interns with opportunities for independent research in food, agriculture, engineering or economics, as well as in the interaction of for-profit and non-profit entities and local communities.