Hoop house capstone brings together campus and community
Julia Danielsen ’22 and Emily Chase ’22 have turned their senior capstone project into a campus addition that will leave a lasting impact on Skidmore and the surrounding community.
They celebrated the official unveiling of the Skidmore Hoop House, next to the Skidmore Community Garden, in late July, cheered on by faculty supporters from the Environmental Studies and Sciences (ESS) Department, staff from the Sustainability Office and Dining Services, and friends and local community members.
Danielsen, a double major in environmental studies and economics, and Chase, an environmental studies major with a minor in English, approached their senior year at Skidmore with an interest in local food systems. Also energized by their work with the campus Sustainability Office, they saw an opportunity to engage students throughout the academic year through the creation of a four-season hoop house.
Video provided by Julia Danielsen ’22 and Emily Chase ’22
“The fall garden concludes with the frost in October, and seedlings go in the ground in mid to late April,” explained Jen Natyzak, sustainability coordinator for student programming. “That means that for more than half the academic year, while students are here, the Community Garden is out of commission."
With this hoop house, we’ll be able to grow through the cold months, creating hands-on learning opportunities for the Skidmore community while also increasing the quantity of produce we grow right here on campus.”Jen NatyzakSustainability Coordinator for Student Programming
Beginning in fall 2021, Danielsen, Chase, and Lily Feldman '22 began exploring the feasibility of a campus hoop house, a type of temporary greenhouse, for their senior capstone project.
With the guidance of Lowery Parker, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies and sciences, and under the umbrella of the ESS program’s Food Systems Initiative, they worked closely with local farmers at Pleasant Valley Farms, Old Saratoga Mercantile, 9 Miles East, Native Farm Flowers, and Pitney Meadows Community Farm to gather research.
“We visited their farms multiple times and conducted interviews in order to understand more about how hoop houses are beneficial to farmers and their daily operations and management,” said Chase.
In spring of 2022, they prepared a budget proposal and feasibility plan for such a structure at Skidmore, managed a 10-week pilot program, and secured funding for a hoop house kit through the College’s capital budget. A faculty-student summer research grant allowed Danielsen and Chase to stay through the summer to see the project through, and a gift from a private donor through Skidmore’s Sustainability Office funded the purchase of tools and supplies.
Through their work with multiple stakeholders at Skidmore and in the local region, Chase and Danielsen say the experience has shown them the value of community-building, raising environmental awareness, and elevating social resources and learning opportunities.
“It’s really an ideal space to just get more people out here and involved with Sustainability Office programs, as well as a meditative and reflective space for anyone," said Danielsen. "We specifically designed it so that the wider walkway that runs through the middle is wheelchair accessible. We hope it's more of a community space than it is a high-yielding greenhouse.”
A 200,000-square-foot greenhouse that opened in 2019 as part of the first phase of College’s new Center for Integrated Sciences is frequently used for experiments by Skidmore’s Biology and Environmental Studies and Sciences departments. But Chase and Danielsen see the hoop house as less of an experimental space and more of a multipurpose gathering spot.
“We envisioned that classes could interact with this space,” said Chase. From hosting research to providing a source of inspiration for artists and writers, “this will be more of a working garden alongside the Community Garden.”
This summer, the hoop house garden is producing peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and basil for Murray-Aikins Dining Hall, and growing will continue into the fall and winter. The Skidmore Community Garden hosts weekly garden “work parties” on Sundays through the academic year, which will now include tasks inside the hoop house.
Many of Skidmore’s sustainability programs are launched and led by students. The Sustainability Office uses the Skidmore campus as a living and learning lab that provides students with hands-on opportunities to build projects from the ground up and watch them grow.
Director of Sustainability Programs and Assessment Tarah Rowse says the hoop house is an excellent example of the student-led sustainability initiatives at Skidmore, first envisioned through a capstone and then executed with the financial and institutional support of the College.
“Skidmore has a history of students leading the charge on food and waste initiatives, and it’s wonderful to see how this project continues the tradition and brings us further along on our sustainability path,” said Rowse.
Beyond the new infrastructure and tangible food production benefits, it provides an opportunity to build community through sustainability programming and academic tie-ins.”Tarah RowseDirector of Sustainability Programs and Assessment
In 2021, Skidmore College’s Environmental Studies and Sciences (ESS) program launched the Food Systems Initiative — an interdisciplinary, community-based research and teaching initiative — with the assistance of a first-time, year-long grant from the Henry David Thoreau Foundation.