Adapting and Innovating in the Plant Growth Facilities

“The plants don’t care if it’s a weekend, holiday, snowstorm, or even a pandemic,” explains Kevin Reilly, Director of the Plant Growth Facility (PGF).

Our PGF team is on site 365 days a year to manage and care for crops grown in controlled-environment greenhouses and growth chambers, but what happens when a global pandemic sends many of our community members home? Suddenly, the PGF team, along with key collaborators around the Center, had to figure out how to do their work under a new, stringent set of rules. 

The team began spreading their shifts across the day, rotating in and out of the facility in teams. “The health and safety of our staff and users has been our top priority. Our team has worked to implement creative ways to maintain crop quality as safely as possible,” explains Kevin. The PGF team began adapting to tools like Google suite, Slack, Zoom and Facetime to better communicate with facility users. This is both increasing efficiency of service and decreasing the need for some users to be on-site.

Members of the Plant Growth Facility team (from left to right: Stephen Kraeuter, Olive Davis, and Jim Pratt)

The PGF team also collaborated with our Data Science group and Kerri Gilbert, Research Associate in the Carrington Lab, to develop an online scheduling system that organizes access to the PGF in a way that minimizes intersection of users and staff onsite.  “For a couple of weeks, scheduling took most of Kevin’s time and a good chunk of my time. In a way, we were building an airplane while we were flying it and it was on fire,” explains Noah Fahlgren, Director, Data Science Facility. 

Kerri and Noah developed a scheduling system with a user activity request feature, a master calendar, and a notification system. “We knew we had to act fast to get the new system in place to allow critical work in the PGF to continue safely. What Noah and Kerri did in a matter of days might have taken us weeks or months to get to maturity under normal circumstances. I appreciate how our users have quickly adapted to the new systems and safety measures as well,” explains Kevin. 

Despite the challenges, the unique circumstances have highlighted the PGF team’s adaptability and perseverance. “I’ve never been prouder of our team. It’s been impressive to see the resilience, grit, and resourcefulness they’ve shown to get the job done under some seriously daunting conditions. The way they’ve continued to support each other and remained committed to keeping the work going, knowing how challenging this situation has been, I just can’t say enough about the character of this group,” says Kevin.