low-carbon nutrients

Nonprofit harvests solar energy to serve Houston's food deserts

Sustainable nonprofit Urban Harvest has upgraded to use solar energy. Photo courtesy Andrew Hemingway/Urban Harvest

Houston nonprofit Urban Harvest is plugging into the power of solar energy.

The nonprofit’s Mobile Market program has added a custom-designed, solar-equipped trailer to its fleet. The market provides fresh locally sourced food to “food deserts.”

“By harnessing the sun’s energy, the trailer can become a self-sustaining unit, eliminating reliance on conventional power sources for a substantial period of time,” says Urban Harvest.

The trailer consists of a Ford F150 hybrid truck with a custom-designed trailer that’s equipped with solar power capabilities. The unit enables Urban Harvest to store and transport nearly $5,000 worth of fresh produce and goods to support the Mobile Market program, which serves an average of 1,200 customers each month.

Urban Harvest is now using solar energy to bring its produce around Houston. Photo courtesy Andrew Hemingway/Urban Harvest

The trailer’s three refrigerators and one deep freezer are entirely powered by solar energy.

“During Hurricane Harvey, we witnessed the devastating impact of disrupted food supply chains, leaving farmers unable to transport and store their produce. We knew there had to be a better way,” says George Hixson, Mobile Market manager for Urban Harvest. “Our solar-powered trailer and F150 hybrid is a game-changer, addressing not only efficiency but also disaster relief and community engagement.”

Urban Harvest foresees expanding the solar concept.

“There was little to no access to local produce during Hurricane Harvey due to crops being flooded out during the storm. This vehicle will allow us to assist farmers in these types of situations getting crops out of the field and into neighborhoods where there is no fresh produce,” says Janna Roberson, executive director of Urban Harvest.

Urban Harvest provides farmers markets, community garden programming, gardening classes, and youth education.

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A View From HETI

A View From UH

A Rice University professor studied the Earth's carbon cycle in the Rio Madre de Dios to shed light on current climate conditions. Photo courtesy of Mark Torres/Rice University

Carbon cycles through Earth, its inhabitants, and its atmosphere on a regular basis, but not much research has been done on that process and qualifying it — until now.

In a recent study of a river system extending from the Peruvian Andes to the Amazon floodplains, Rice University’s Mark Torres and collaborators from five institutions proved that that high rates of carbon breakdown persist from mountaintop to floodplain.

“The purpose of this research was to quantify the rate at which Earth naturally releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and find out whether this process varies across different geographic locations,” Torres says in a news release.

Torres published his findings in a study published in PNAS, explaining how they used rhenium — a silvery-gray, heavy transition metal — as a proxy for carbon. The research into the Earth’s natural, pre-anthropogenic carbon cycle stands to benefit humanity by providing valuable insight to current climate challenges.

“This research used a newly-developed technique pioneered by Robert Hilton and Mathieu Dellinger that relies on a trace element — rhenium — that’s incorporated in fossil organic matter,” Torres says. “As plankton die and sink to the bottom of the ocean, that dead carbon becomes chemically reactive in a way that adds rhenium to it.”

The research was done in the Rio Madre de Dios basin and supported by funding from a European Research Council Starting Grant, the European Union COFUND/Durham Junior Research Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation.

“I’m very excited about this tool,” Torres said. “Rice students have deployed this same method in our lab here, so now we can make this kind of measurement and apply it at other sites. In fact, as part of current research funded by the National Science Foundation, we are applying this technique in Southern California to learn how tectonics and climate influence the breakdown of fossil carbon.”

Torres also received a three-year grant from the Department of Energy to study soil for carbon storage earlier this year.

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