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Small farm idea wins environmental idea-to-product competition

March 10, 2009

Many Purdue University students have ideas -- bold ideas that actually make sense and could change the world for the better.

On Saturday, six teams of students put their ideas to the test. Each gave a formal presentation during the third annual Idea-to-Product Competition for Environmental & Social Entrepreneurship. The competition pulls students into interdisciplinary teams to address environmental challenges, said Brent Ladd, outreach and education director with the Purdue Center for the Environment. The husband and wife team of Erick and Jessica Smith won the competition with the project called This Old Farm. Erick has a bachelor's degree in engineering from Purdue and is continuing to study for his master's degree in building and construction management. Jessica has a bachelor's degree in biology from Purdue.

The idea behind This Old Farm is to create a facility suitable for use by local farmers to process farm animals and vegetables that would then be sold to restaurants and caterers. Erick Smith explained that before meats and vegetables reach people's tables, they have to be processed. With the current large-scale farming system, four major processors handle 80 percent of the beef in the country, he said. "Small farms run into a barrier," Smith said, when they try to get their products to the consumer. "They have to go to a licensed facility. This is a huge gap in the food system." The Smiths are working to build on their organic farm near Darlington a multi-use facility that can process meat and vegetables from smaller farms.

Held at Pfendler Hall of Agriculture, Saturday's competition was hosted by Center for the Environment in collaboration with the Center for Entrepreneurship of Purdue's Discovery Park. To qualify, ideas needed to be new and marketable. The Smiths have been awarded a Value Added Producers Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assist their project. They want their idea to serve as a catalyst to bring similar facilities to other areas across Indiana and the country. "It's all about local," Erick Smith said. The Smiths won $5,000 and will go on to take part in the national competition to be held at Purdue in April.

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