Photo caption: From left: Former Executive Director of Alvernia’s Holleran Center for Community and Global Engagement Dr. Rudy Ruth, Alvernia Sustainability Coordinator Dr. Alicia Sprow, Alvernia Senior Vice President and Provost Dr. Glynis Fitzgerald, Alvernia President John R. Loyack, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Policy Director Michael Roth, Coexist Co-Owners Drew Oberholtzer and Ana Konopitskaya and Alvernia Environmental Science students Ethan LaVerdure and Alex Kabrich
Pennsylvania's Specialty Crop Block Grant funds regenerative building material study
With funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and in partnership with the Holleran Center for Community and Global Engagement's EcoHouse and the Rodale Institute, Coexist Build unveiled "The Traveler," a hemp-based regenerative building material structure that will serve as a produce stand for the university's Bog Turtle Creek Farm.
"The research was one of the main reasons for this project," said Ana Konopitskaya, co-owner of Coexist Build. "We hope to set a new standard and showcase the potential of this material which can have a massive impact not just on the health of the occupant of a hemp-based structure, but for the environment and for farming practices."
Coexist Build and Alvernia students will conduct a lifecycle assessment of industrial hemp by collecting data to help quantify the effectiveness of hemp as a building material in a structure's performance, energy efficiency, and indoor air quality over the next two years. The assessment is made possible by a two-year, $70,000 Specialty Crop Block Grant awarded in 2021.
"We've invested more than $600,000 into projects growing the Commonwealth's hemp fiber industry. Innovative projects like these are changing the trajectory of PA and building a sustainable future," said Michael Roth, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture policy director. "Industrial hemp as a building material is paving the way for sustainable home-building products that respect human and environmental health."
Alvernia environmental science students Ethan LaVerdure and Alex Kabrich will participate in the hemp growing cycle with Rodale Institute and facilitate educational programs around hemp as a viable building material. They will report on the building's performance in 2023.
"It is gatherings like these that help remind us how important these in person interactions are in the magic of making a more regenerative future possible," said Alvernia University Sustainability Coordinator and faculty member Dr. Alicia Sprow.
Coexist entrepreneurs Konopitskaya and co-owner Drew Oberholtzer have also been supported by Alvernia's O'Pake Institute Spark Business Incubator for marketing and other business services.
The EcoHouse is an experiential learning hub where students are actively engaged in Alvernia's Holleran Center for Community and Global Engagement's Bog Turtle Creek Farm project, a student-led response to food insecurity in the City of Reading.