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A member of DelVal’s class of 2012 creates a rooftop garden in Haiti for his senior project

Jun 13, 2012

A DelVal environmental design major’s senior capstone project took him to Haiti, where he will be installing a system to grow food on a residential rooftop this July.  The installation should take about a week.

Harris Trobman, a 2012 DelVal graduate from Philadelphia, is putting his skills in design to use to help provide fruits and vegetables for people who are struggling to survive. He presented his project, “The Social Harvest” at the college on May 9.

On Saturday, June 23, he will present his work with Michael Fleischacker, co-chair of DelVal’s Natural Resources and Biosystems Management department, at The Greater Philadelphia Symposium on Haitian Service in Devon, Pa.

The event is open to the public and will be held at Main Line Unitarian Church from 8:30 a.m.-4:45 p.m. The symposium will bring together groups and individuals working on projects in Haiti to share experiences, ideas and challenges and form connections.

The day will include presentations by 11 groups doing work in Haiti, including the DelVal presentation, followed by a roundtable discussion. Members of the Haitian community who have been touched by humanitarian work have been invited to participate and share their stories at the event.

“Harris has pulled together a really diverse and wonderful team to work on this project that we’re all very excited about,” said Fleischacker, Trobman’s main advisor and a lead landscape architect for the project.

Trobman traveled to Haiti for the first time in February, to get a sense of what it was like there so that he could design a better system.

What he saw made him passionate about using his knowledge of environmental design to help.

“It took me back a lot. It is very different than being in the U.S. The poverty level is incredible,” said Trobman. “When you walk around the streets and see people just struggling to survive...It is kind of like this helpless feeling, you are helping a few people, but you wish you could help everybody.”

Trobman said that the effect of the earthquake on people’s lives there can still be felt.

“The earthquake had such a big impact on the country in 2010,” said Trobman. “The massive earthquake was really evident in the morale of people. I saw several kids that came into the medical missionary that came in walking with one leg. They had lost two of their brothers or their parents in the earthquake. Just giving them hope and seeing them walk out with a smile is so big. With my project, I’m hoping to give them vitamins so that they can survive.”

Trobman got involved in the project after a group from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a church in Doylestown, contacted the college.

“There are problems with food, nutrition, clean water,” said Sean McArdle, a member of the OLMC mission. “The nutrition part of it is where I called DelVal.”

Trobman decided to take on the challenge as his senior project and he’s hoping his system will empower people in Haiti.

“I think he’s the best person to start this project,” said McArdle. “He’s not just doing it for a senior project, he’s excited about it.”

Trobman has assembled an advisory committee of professors that includes: Dr. Tanya Casas, who will provide expertise in sociology, Dr. Jackie Ricotta, who will provide expertise in growing food, Larry Hepner, who will provide expertise in soils, Howard Eyre who will provide expertise in implementation strategies, and Fleischacker who will provide expertise in design.

The project includes the design and installation of the rooftop, composting plans, as well as care and upkeep plans.

Trobman is exploring a water reuse system as a possible component because of how expensive water is in Haiti. He is also exploring the idea of having chickens provide eggs, as a protein source, and bringing the waste from the chickens back into the system to provide nutrients for the plants.

Trobman is carefully selecting the foods he chooses to grow to make sure they are vitamin rich, popular, and relevant to the culture. Some of the foods he’s considering are beans, lettuce and eggplants.

He is also reusing readily accessible materials such as trash, rice bags, oil barrels, cans, and bottles as much as possible.

Harris wants to teach the local people about crop rotation and seed collection to keep the system going and hopefully encourage them to create more rooftop gardens modeled after it.

This project will serve as a prototype for future projects within the "Social Harvest Network" at the college's Regenerative Land Institute.

Faculty members Larry Hepner and Fleischacker are co-directors of this institute and the rest of Trobman’s advisory team are members of the institute.

Trobman said DelVal has prepared him to lead and work for positive change.

“Experiential learning is such a crucial part of a DelVal education,” said Trobman. “To not necessarily have the teachers hold your hand to do things…You can find out things on your own as well. It is up to me to take what I learn and guide a project. I can’t imagine another school where I’d be able to do this (leading the DelVal team and handling issues including supplies, design, fundraising and travel). The feeling of helping people down there is the biggest thing I’ll take away from this project. I’m helping them, but they’re teaching me a lot about life.”

Trobman will be attending Virginia Tech’s graduate program in landscape architecture in the fall.