Finding the Equation to End Hunger

Joy Youwakim's garden is on top of a landfill in the Del Valle area, but the landfill has been covered in soil and grass and is successfully growing produce.

Joy Youwakim's garden, located in a landfill in the Del Valle area, is successfully growing produce over the landfill coverd with grass and soil. Photo courtesy of Joy Youwakim.

What if our next meal was locally grown next to the trash we threw out last week?

At first glance, you would never know that Joy Youwakim's garden is on top of a landfill in the Del Valle area, but the trash has been covered in soil and grass and is successfully growing produce.

Joy Youwakim with shovel.

Joy Youwakim.

Youwakim, a senior majoring in economics, is using the garden for her research. She is studying how the mathematical equation for heat applies to how increased temperature and methane affect plant growth.

“It was my idea to grow produce there because I know that there is 330 acres of land that is just sitting there,” Youwakim said. “The first step is figuring out if the produce that grows from landfill is edible.”

When Youwakim is not in the field farming and harvesting her crops, she is building math models to calculate what the crop output will be if the amount of water applied is changed.

Youwakim said she believes improving agriculture is key to changing the future. She hopes her equations could eventually help end hunger. She has been awarded two Undergraduate Research Fellowship grants — one for her research on growing produce in a landfill, and the other for her study of drought-resistant crops.

Her study on drought-resistant crops ranked third in the 2016 Texas Student Research Showdown, a competition hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Research for UT students.

In April, further research she conducted on the subject will be published in the University of Kassel’s Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture and Society in Germany.

“Doing research gave me a sense of identity because economics is a really broad major, and I knew that I didn’t want to go into consulting or the like,” said Youwakim. “So learning that I could research things that I like, work with food and help others just really made me feel at home in this really big school.”

Youwakim’s experience has led her to encourage students to participate in research as an ambassador for the Office of Undergraduate Research. She works on enhancing undergraduate research at the university across all disciplines.

Visit the Texas Student Research Showdown voting page to see this year’s contestants explain their research project. You can vote for your favorite video by 11:59 p.m., Oct. 25. The top three vote-winning videos will continue to the Showdown final round to compete for $2,500 in student research awards.