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Students envision future cities with skyscraper farms

Middle school students from Maryland, Virginia and Washington gathered Saturday in Baltimore to present their visions of future cities capable of feeding themselves with urban farms.

A team from the Edlin School in Reston, Va., bounced out of the Baltimore Museum of Industry carrying first-place trophies and big smiles after judges bestowed the top prize on their imaginary city, Fortuna. A team from Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills won second place with their city, Esperanza. And Agriville, the city built by Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Towson, landed the students' choice award.

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The Future City competition is sponsored by DiscoverE, an engineering advocacy organization. The theme for this year's event was "Feeding Future Cities," which challenged students to grow one protein food and one vegetable in urban settings.

Teams from 19 schools in the organization's Mid-Atlantic region have been working since September to write 1,000-word essays about their cities, craft computer simulations and build large-scale models using budgets of $100.

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The Reston, Va., team's victory landed it a spot in the national competition in Washington, scheduled for Feb. 15-18. The team used a 3D printer to produce biodegradable plastic pieces that made up the bulk of the buildings they used for their model. The team, led by student Rayyan Khan, 14, devised a concept to grow food in labs using stem cells from chicken and kale.

"The hard work paid off," said Shaila Khan, the team's adviser.

The Garrison Forest School squad "grew soy beans in vertical farms" in skyscrapers and salmon in fish hatcheries, said Serena Shafer, 13.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary School's team envisioned an Illinois city on the shores of Lake Michigan called Agriville, said Abby Slovick, 13. The model featured farming inside skyscrapers and hydroponic facilities to grow crops year round, Slovick said.

The model also featured an "edible park" of apples, pears and cherries, said Darby Brandenburg, 13. And the city's power was generated by two windmills, including a 2,000-foot-tall represented in the model by a standing electric toothbrush, said Aysia Davis, 12.

The two foods the Towson team decided were best for future sustainability are not typically counted among children's favorites: spinach and soybeans.

"You have to start preparing for 'what ifs,'" Slovick said.

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