Temple Times Online Edition
    OCTOBER 20, 2005
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Planting seeds of hope

Photo by Douglas Engle, www.douglasengle.com
Temple grad Elisa Ranck installs plants in a hydroponic grower near the Christ the Redeemer statue in the Santa Marta slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August.

Josh Meyer is used to people saying no.

When he first traveled to Rio de Janeiro’s shantytowns and envisioned hydroponic rooftop gardens as a fix for Brazilian malnutrition, many people rejected his ideas as too costly and his designs as too unwieldy.

Still others told him that his quixotic plans would never fly in the favelas, slums overrun with drug trafficking gangs and corrupt cops.

Meyer even faced self-doubt about how much hope he, an outsider, could bring to the grim realities of Dona Marta, Rio’s most-known — and most-guarded — favela.

Upon returning to Temple in August 2004 with his plans for Rio, however, Meyer started to hear lots of yeses.

Professors supported his theories and challenged him to make them stronger.

An environmental studies major, Meyer recruited a group of classmates with a diversity of majors — engineering, landscape architecture, film — to pitch in with the project.

The Provost’s Office and the students’ academic deans quickly embraced Meyer’s plans, committing nearly $10,000 to fund an initial student trip to Brazil in December 2004.

Soon after, the Provost’s Office created an Undergraduate Research Incentive Fund, a yearly pool of $20,000 that is distributed to worthy student projects, on the condition that each student’s academic department pays half the cost.

It was from this source that Meyer and five other Temple students were able to continue their experiments in Rio during the summer. (They also netted an additional $7,500 from private donors.)

Accompanying Meyer were film majors Matthew Rascone and Fernando Regencio; geography and Spanish major Lauren Bolinger; and recent graduates Joseph Lulis and Elisa Ranck.

Toward the end of their August trip, reporter Marion Lloyd joined them for a Chronicle of Higher Education story that appeared on Oct. 14.

A senior, Meyer hopes to continue the project, formally titled the Latin American Technology Transfer, in conjunction with Temple after he graduates. He has formed the Urban Center for Sustainability on campus, a student initiative to raise the ecological, economic and social standard of living for city dwellers through academic knowledge and ingenuity.

Having seen his vision of simple, low-cost hydroponic gardens take root in Dona Marta, Meyer is now confident that Latin American residents will say yes to his idea and the technology will spread throughout the region.

-Ted Boscia