Starting a Campus Greenhouse

A student-run greenhouse on a college campus is a fantastic way for students to engage in sustainability issues and acquire hands-on experience.

By Justina Thompson — March 28, 2023

Starting a Campus Greenhouse

There is no better way to learn about sustainability and the environment than by experimenting with growing food yourself. A student-run greenhouse on a college campus is a fantastic way for students to engaged in sustainability issues and to acquire hands-on experience. Not only do greenhouses provide an opportunity for students to become more conscious about the environmental impact of their food choices, but it also helps students make more conscious decisions about their food intake. A student-run greenhouse could also be an initiative that is perfectly aligned with a college's mission of educating and inspiring students to become more eco-conscious, empowered community leaders.

Find Resources and Research

The first step to establishing the student-run greenhouse would be to research the resources and opportunities that the campus has to offer. The college must have suitable space and resources to invest to make the project possible. A student-run greenhouse could be constructed on campus, or off-site by collaborating with local organizations. It is also important to research grant opportunities and funding sources that could help finance the project.

To gather resources, it's necessary to create a plan for marketing and outreach. Ideally, this plan should be developed by a team that includes graphic designers and communications specialists. This team may develop materials such as logos, flyers, and other branding collateral to help spread awareness of the project. With permission, post these materials around campus, while also sending them to community members near the campus, or shared on social media.

Engage the Community

When thinking about marketing and resource building, engaging the community can help bridge volunteer gaps while creating funding opportunities. A student team may plan public events to help spread the word, such as lectures, open houses, and touring days. These events could feature speakers and hands-on activities to help educate students and community members. Additionally, the team should work with other student organizations and groups on campus to collaborate on ideas and joint events to maximize the reach of the project.

Assemble Your Team

Once the viability of the project is confirmed, the next step is to assemble a team that is passionate and dedicated to the project. This team would consist of a small group of driven students as well as faculty and staff who can offer advice and assistance. Leaders for the team should be chosen based on their ability to create a strong vision, coordinate and facilitate collaboration, and communicate the project's goals and objectives. The team should be responsible for developing a clear and concise strategic plan for the greenhouse and its operations. A plan should include a budget, a timeline, and sustainability goals.

Once the team and plan are in place, the next step is to begin carrying out the plan. This includes recruiting more students and faculty for the project, as well as launching any fundraising and awareness efforts. Any resources that can be leveraged should also be utilized, such as building materials or research that has already been conducted. When it comes to the actual greenhouse structure, a hydroponic system is ideal because of its ability to be set up indoors and its low resource consumption.

Set the Sustainability Standards

The student-run greenhouse should adhere to certain standards of sustainability. This may include the use of renewable energy sources, responsible water usage, and how waste is managed. The team should also seek certification from organizations such as the Greenhouse Certification Council to ensure that the environment is being operated in a sustainable fashion.

Students should also be trained in safety and sustainability practices to ensure that the greenhouse runs smoothly and efficiently. This is especially important because the greenhouse could be a great learning opportunity for students to apply the knowledge they have learned in the classroom in a practical setting.

To apply for grants and maintain the greenhouse, it's important to collect data and engage in analysis. Tracking the success of the greenhouse and measuring the impact it has on creating a more eco-friendly atmosphere will generate both interest and excitement from students. Having this data can help inform decision making and be used to make improvements when needed. Additionally, data can be used to show donors and sponsors what impact the project has on campus.

Evaluate Progress

To maintain and sustain the greenhouse, regular check-ins and evaluations should take place. This maintains the greenhouse and its occupants, while also allowing the team to monitor its progress and make necessary changes. The team should also be responsible for creating promotional campaigns that will spread awareness of sustainability and the greenhouse's operations. This can help engage the public and potentially draw more visitors, creating even more opportunities for education.

The most important step in this process is to ensure that the project is administered responsibly and effectively. This includes having clear operational guidelines in place and having the team do regular check-ins to ensure that all aspects of the project are running smoothly. The team should use feedback from the student body and other stakeholders to critique and inform the management of the project. And, most importantly, students should continue to track outcomes and ensure that the project is achieving sustainability goals.


Student-run greenhouse projects can bring about meaningful change to not just the campus but the entire community too. Therefore, it is important to create a comprehensive and sustainability-focused financial model. Strategies such as grants and philanthropic investments can be used to cover the costs of developing and maintaining the project. Additionally, the team should explore other forms of revenue such as donations from benefactors, investments from the college, and student fees.

This student-run greenhouse project has the potential to make a positive impact on the campus and the community. With careful planning and the right people leading the project, greenhouses can be an invaluable resource for the campus, helping to educate and inspire eco-friendly practices. A student-run greenhouse is a valuable addition to any campus. Not only does it offer students an interactive way to learn about sustainability, but it also promotes environmental awareness and responsibility. With careful planning and commitment from everyone involved, greenhouses can provide a great learning opportunity, and serve as an example of how a more sustainable future is possible.

Justina Thompson

Justina Thompson

Justina "Farmer J" Thompson is the Farm Education and Volunteer Manager at Urban Creators, Philadelphia, PA. Justina intentionally attended school in Philadelphia so she could “connect her passion and experience to the ongoing environmental justice work in the area.” As a speaker, educational curriculum designer, program leader, and community organizer, Justina possesses extensive knowledge on urban farming inspired to work in the field of environmental justice from a young age.
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