Event highlights sustainable innovations at Loy Farm
More than 100 Glen Raven Inc. customers from across the country and Mexico visited the Environmental Center at Loy Farm for a May 12 banquet as part of a summit that highlights innovation.
The Environmental Center at Loy Farm was transformed into an event venue Thursday evening as it welcomed more than 100 business executives from across the country and Mexico who were attending Glen Raven Inc.’s Innovation Summit.
In its fifth year, the two-day summit allows the fabric manufacturing company based in Burlington, North Carolina, to explore all aspects of innovation, said Paige Mullis, Glen Raven’s director of concept development. “We have such a diverse customer base,” she said, adding that they were interested in holding their banquet in a space conducive to learning. “We felt the [Loy Farm] really offers that,” she said. “It help us continue the learning process but in a relaxed atmosphere.”
During the event, student volunteers were on hand to provide information about the different aspects of the center, including the Piedmont Prairie restoration project, which recreates a native but rare ecosystem; the solar farm capable of generating 4,500-megawatt hours of electricity per year; the heirloom apple orchard, which show the importance of preserving the gene pool of Southern apples people don’t grow any more; and the greenhouse and sustainable agriculture that provide produce that is given to local pantries. Students who had used the Design Build Studio for Responsible Architecture to build microhouses were also available to talk about their projects.
Senior Jensen Roll was one of them. He is building a 128-square-foot house he plans to live in after graduation. He plans to stay in the Burlington area to continue work on his nonprofit, HOPE—Helping Other People Eat, which aims to provide sustainable financial support to local food pantries by connecting local food pantries with local restaurants. “I think it’s a neat opportunity to speak with stakeholders in our community,” Roll said of Thursday’s event. As more cities around the state and the country grapple with how to best incorporate these unique spaces in urban settings, he adds, events like the one at Loy Farm are a good way to get the conversation started in the local community.
Derek Robinson MBA’03, who is in charge of Glen Raven’s global business development and serves as an adjunct instructor in marketing at the Love School of Business, came up with the idea of holding the event at Loy Farm. He was instrumental in launching a partnership between the company and the university’s Department of Environmental Studies to develop projects with a business-academic approach, such as developing sustainable systems that can be deployed to people in disaster areas or refugee zones. Robinson said they are encouraging students, like environmental and ecological science major Brian Meko ’17, to repurpose Glen Raven products to create sustainable solutions for needs faced by these populations.
Meko, who attended the event, is using fabric originally created to reinforce roads and bridges to create vertical gardens that can be easily set up on a wall. His garden has two layers: one that holds plants like lettuce and bok choy and absorbs direct sunlight and another behind it that is moist and shaded, a perfect set up for growing mushrooms. “It works, which is great, but they are not growing as well as we’d like them to grow,” he said of his garden. Besides expanding it to be able to add more plants, he is looking at ways to keep the second layers moist at all times.
Robinson is excited at the possible impact these gardens can have in disaster relief operations. “We are talking about sustainable innovations,” he said, adding that people in disaster areas would have the ability to grow their own food.
Janet MacFall, director of Elon’s Center for Environmental Studies, said she was thrilled to use this event to showcase what Loy Farm has to offer. “We see the center as a demonstration site that shows how natural systems, food product systems and human systems can fit together, if it is well designed and well thought out,” she said, adding she hopes to have similar events at the farm in the future.
The farm is managed through the Center for Environmental Studies with help from Campus Kitchen, which shares the food with the community, the Office of Sustainability, Elon Academy, the Department of Environmental Studies and the university’s administration. Environmental studies faculty members who oversee farm activities include Steve Moore (bees, high tunnel and food), Robert Charest (microhouses and design studio) and Michael Strickland (heirloom apple orchard).