Student Spotlight: Samantha Heward

 

Meet Samantha Heward.

Samantha is a graduate student here at the University of Arizona's Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (UA-CEAC), obtaining her Professional Science Masters (PSM) degree in Applied Biosciences within the Controlled Environment Agriculture track.

Originally from Reno, NV, Samantha moved to Tucson five years ago when she was accepted to the University of Arizona as an undergraduate student. She’s now in her second year of her master’s program at UA-CEAC, with plans to graduate next semester.

While obtaining her undergraduate degree, she tried nine different majors, but none were quite right. Still trying to determine her academic path, Samantha decided to tour CEAC’s facilities and concluded that she wanted to explore studying controlled environment agriculture. A few months later, she started interning and working in the UA-CEAC Teaching Greenhouse.

"I love how unique, interdisciplinary, and hands-on it is,” Samantha said. “It is awesome to be able to work with plants and watch them grow, rather than sit in an office all day.”

We may be biased, but we couldn't agree more.

Samantha served as the greenhouse manager at the UA-CEAC Teaching Greenhouse for a year and a half under the direction of Dr. Stacy Tollefson. In her role, Samantha did a variety of tasks; some of which included tending to the plants in the greenhouse, harvesting, pest management, making nutrient tanks, testing water quality in the lysimeters, and training/overseeing other student workers and interns at the greenhouse. The UA-CEAC Teaching Greenhouse is also used to conduct crop variety trials. Samantha was collecting harvesting data to compare grafted plants vs non-grafted of the same variety.

Additionally, some of the produce grown in the UA-CEAC Teaching Greenhouse is available to the public through vendors. Samantha helps with compiling orders for the vendors that distribute produce to local farmers’ markets and restaurants.

Along with Dr. Tollefson and Dr. Matthew Recsetar, Samantha is conducting research to evaluate growing tomatoes aquaponically. In the past, tomatoes have not been able to grow effectively in aquaponics since they require more nutrients than lettuce or leafy greens. The hope is to discover successful ways to grow tomatoes with the UA-CEAC’s newly built small commercial-style system that could eventually be scaled up. The system is implementing three different styles of treatments; crops grown with aquaponic water, a coupled system, and a decoupled system with adding more mineralized fish solids. Currently, the system has more than 250 baby tilapia that Samantha cares for by feeding and measuring the pH, nitrate, ammonia, and nitrite levels to maintain ideal water quality for the fish.

When asked what her favorite part about her program is, Samantha said,

I think all of these things can be found on the internet or in textbooks, but nothing compares to actually getting your hands dirty and learning from your mistakes. I also love to see how the greenhouse progresses over the course of the year—it is awesome to see it completely empty, and then see it six months later when it looks like a jungle and there are tons of produce.”

For the future of controlled environment agriculture, Samantha hopes to see more hydroponic growing optimized to produce healthy and fresh food in urban areas and larger cities.  She also would like to see the people in these areas become more educated in where their food comes from and believes that bringing agriculture back into cities with things like CEA can help educate urban consumers more adequately.

After Samantha graduates, she hopes to one day own her own greenhouse and be able to contribute to local and urban agriculture on a small-scale basis. Samantha also hopes to discover ways to support the future developments of commercial scale aquaponics production systems.

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