2015 Student Awards
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Underground agriculture is a way to reclaim abandoned tunnels in coal-mining systems, putting them to new, productive uses. Underground agriculture is also a way to help revive the economy of mining districts, transforming from a basis in limited-lifespan extraction industry to an unlimited-lifespan generative industry. Furthermore, this method could help address an extreme situation facing cultures and economies today: sustaining food production in the face of systematic failures, growing urban populations, and climate change.
The coal mining system produces, and then abandons, large amounts of infrastructure that could be put to new purposes. Such infrastructure includes rail networks that transport materials at local and regional scales; tunnel conditions with distinct environmental properties (stable structure, temperature, and humidity); and pertinent mechanical systems (electricity, water, and ventilation) that are well suited to controlled agriculture. As one industry—mining—falls away, another—agriculture—can take its place.