Sinclair student’s patent-pending creation a path to relief in food deserts

Scholarship winner Leanora Royster-Ivy designed and built mobile aeroponic systems for growing vegetables.

A Sinclair Community College student’s patent-pending creation is designed to give businesses and residents the ability to grow vegetables in the air or mist environment without soil.

Leanora Royster-Ivy said she started at the college in January 2022 for vocational rehab after a June 2021 stroke. The experience helped her to get her thought process back and start speaking again, she said

“The classroom was a way for me to practice all those things, and I joined the agriculture program because that’s what I enjoy,” Royster-Ivy said.

Sinclair’s agronomy program places an emphasis on urban agriculture as a result of food desert or supply-chain issues, she said.

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“After the shortages during the COVID shutdown, it was horrible for people to get food, so ... I had started trying to help people build gardens in their backyards, but after my medical incident, that kind of fell away,” Royster-Ivy said.

With Sinclair, she found a college that was into hydroponics, “but not to the extent that I am,” she said.

“I saw that they had a hydroponic tower, and I told my teacher ... ‘I know a better way to do this,’” Royster-Ivy said. “So I started building and designing prototypes (and then) I finally got one that worked.”

She has three designs so far for her mobile aeroponic system. One is the size of a commercial kitchen refrigerator, the second is mid-sized and fits in a closet and the third is the size of a college dorm refrigerator. Royster-Ivy said she built every aspect of each device, including its frame, design, manifold, water pump, electrical panel, plumbing and sprayers.

The device mists free-hanging roots on the inside of the reservoir for three minutes every 20 minutes, she said.

Her professors at Sinclair told her she couldn’t show her creation to others without patenting it, so she filed for a patent, which is now pending.

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“That’s how I basically started developing this thing, out of need, because my community only had one grocery store, Kroger, to service the whole west side,” she said. “And I just thought that was such an abomination to have people struggling to buy food. So if we teach people how to grow at least their own vegetables, we could change the health of the community ... and then make them more self reliant.”

Royster-Ivy, a U.S. Army veteran, said her creation is “a game changer for food deserts” because it’s portable, easy to use and available all year round.

The Mobile Aeroponic Growth System allows consumers to grow their own food in a small space like an apartment without having to worry about supply-chain shortages, she said.

The next step for the device is fabrication on a large scale under Urban Agriculture Innovations LLC, whose website advertises “DIY Sustainable Gardening for Your Home, Restaurant or Office.”

Royster-Ivy, who lives in Jefferson Twp., was raised In west Dayton. She said she attended 4-H and Future Farmers of America at Wogaman Elementary as a child, and “always has been into gardening.”

“They would take us out to the fields and we learned a lot about farming, so it’s something that never left me and I’ve done it throughout my life,” Royster-Ivy said.

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She said she learned hydroponics from the cities of Oakland and Berkeley in California. “They have programs there that teach the community gardening skills because it’s such a congested area,” Royster-Ivy said. “I gravitated to urban gardening.”

She credits Sinclair’s two-year agriculture program with helping her overcome some of her temporary disabilities.

“Once they found out some of the difficulties I was having, it’s like they wrapped their arms around me,” Royster-Ivy said. “I don’t know if I would have got that support (elsewhere) that I’m getting at Sinclair to do what I’m doing.”

She said Sinclair’s digital marketing department helped design Urban Agriculture Innovations’ logo, website and digital marketing plan.

Royster-Ivy recently received the Philip Parker Scholarship at the Presidents Club of Dayton luncheon.

“My academic goal is to transfer to the Ohio State University Department of Agriculture to obtain a baccalaureate degree and become a master gardener,” she said then. “Your scholarship has given me the encouragement I needed to fulfill my goals and accomplish the mission.”

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