Food Innovation Center

Collaborating for a healthier, hunger-free world.

Designing the Future of Food Innovation

Katherine Bennett Supports Local Community with Unique Modular Hoop Houses

Katherine Bennett

In post-industrial Ohio, residents in urban areas face accumulating vacant land and multiple barriers to food security. Residents of urban areas are experiencing unemployment and inadequate access to basic food sources such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Food Innovation Center member and Assistant Professor in the Knowlton School of Architecture, Katherine Bennett, decided to take initiative towards empowering the community.

In her seed grant project titled, "A Demonstration Pilot for Urban Agriculture, Ecology, and Entrepreneurs," Bennett and her team collaborated with community organizations Godman Guild Association and Local Matters. The goal of the project was to design and create modular, affordable, urban gardens adaptable by local residents to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Godman Guild's and Local Matters' educational programs provide workshops and training programs to the community which accommodates children, teens, adults, and families.

Bennett and her team have designed modular hoop house models constructed from readily available and affordable materials such as PVC and plastic. Raised garden beds inside and outside of the hoop houses feature a stormwater system for irrigation. The hoop houses shelter berries and common vegetables from rain, snow and wind. The hoop house design lengthens the growing season and increases productivity while reducing the need for pesticides and fungicides.

All of the elements in the design were chosen to benefit an urban lifestyle. Materials are affordable yet efficient. The hoop house's scalable features make them compatible for a variety of environments from an apartment balcony to a community garden. Bamboo, grown in the pilot garden, is beneficial for its dual purpose as a source of food and as building material. Bennett hopes to transition the PVC structure to bamboo as a more environmentally-friendly option in the future.

Construction phase of the modular hoop houses during the 2012 landscape architecture studio and International Workshop on Urban Landscape (Video by Keida Mascaro)

Construction began in 2012 during the annual International Workshop on Urban Agriculture hosted by Bennett at the Knowlton School of Architecture. Participants included students and faculty from Bangkok, Thailand and Seoul, Korea, and collaborators Parwinder Grewal, Joe Kovach and Margaret McMahon. Together the team persevered through summertime heat and intense physical labor to create the hoop houses which now stand in Godman Guild's community gardens.

When designing architectural projects, Bennett always keeps in mind the human impact on the environment. 

"I loved teaching the students about the site and how the land affects the design," says Bennett.

Not only do Bennett's hoop houses serve as an educational model for learning gardening skills, they also demonstrate a potential source of food and income for community members. Local Matters devised a business plan to provide community members the marketing and business skills necessary to earn a profit from the foods grown in their gardens. Involvement with Local Matters' partner, The Greener Grocer, gives residents the opportunity to sell vegetables and fruits grown in the gardens to retailers and Columbus restaurants.

The numerous Food Innovation Center members who share the same passions in research as Bennett made for a seamless collaborative project. The impact of Bennett's project on the local community exemplifies what can result from these interdisciplinary interactions.

"I enjoy working with people who passionately believe in environmental and social justice," says Bennett. "Each member gets excited talking about the project."

In the future, the Godman Guild and Local Matters will incorporate Bennett's project as an ongoing garden program to foster and maintain grassroots relationships in the community.

Written by Chau-Sa Dang