New UTRGV SARA mobile lab to venture into community helping spread information on sustainability, agriculture

  Wednesday, March 20, 2024

By Amanda A. Taylor-Uchoa

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – MARCH 20, 2024 – Interested in gardening but unsure where to begin? UTRGV has the solution with its new innovative mobile lab that will be headed to a community near you.

The Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement (SARA) mobile lab will soon venture into the community to hold classes centered on sustainability and agriculture topics, helping local and rural farmers and community members throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

The mobile lab is an extension of the UTRGV Hub of Prosperity, a 5-acre research and education farm managed by the UTRGV SARA and the UTRGV Agroecology Program.

The Hub of Prosperity farm was established in 2019 with the aim of being a regional model of a local, sustainable food system encouraging civic engagement to help develop a scientific capacity around food and agriculture, while improving food self-reliance for UTRGV and surrounding communities.

Stephanie Kasper, program manager for UTRGV’s School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Sciences (SEEMS), said while the farm hosts agricultural classes onsite in Edinburg, the mobile lab will help generate more interest and awareness in farming and sustainability across the region.

“Sometimes transportation is a big barrier for people to get to our location, so the trailer is meant to be able to take the educational material out on the road to several partner locations and help cover topics like water conservation, irrigation practices, how to start a garden and soil testing,” she said. “The trailer has already generated a lot of interest from the community.”

These community partners include the Sentli Center for Regenerative Agriculture in Edinburg, the Brownsville Wellness Coalition, Proyecto Desarrollo Humano in Penitas, and the Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg. Classes and demonstrations will be held at these locations, but Kasper said the trailer is also meant to venture into more rural areas to address farming concerns from local farmers in the future.


The trailer currently sits on the outer edge of the farm’s property located directly behind the Edinburg First Methodist Church off University Drive. The trailer’s orange expanse displays artwork of rural farming and various crops with the words “Siembra Tradicion Cosecha Abundancia,” which translates to “Sowing Tradition Harvest Abundance,” on either side of it.

The mobile lab project is funded by a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) cooperative agreement through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the trailer itself was a donation from Rio Texas Methodist Church. Work began on the trailer in 2022 with UTRGV students playing a role in helping design the trailer.

The students played a significant role in its design, they had a lot of input on those first designs we received, and we wanted to make sure they felt engaged with it, as it is in a way helping them in their careers, schoolwork and community service,” said Mario Fierro, program specialist for UTRGV’s SEEMS.

While the trailer is still in the development stages to get the inside fully equipped with necessary electronics and tools, it is currently being used for the Hub’s weekly farmers market events hauling fresh produce grown at the farm and provided by surrounding farms.  

hub of prosperity farm
Staff work at the Hub of Prosperity farm managed by the UTRGV Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement and the UTRGV Agroecology Program on Monday, March 4, 2024, in Edinburg, Texas. (UTRGV photo by Paul Chouy)

“The trailer is beautiful, and it’s taken a lot of collaboration and moving parts to get it to where it is now,” Kasper said. “The trailer isn’t completed yet so we’re still working on design layouts, and it will be ready to roll and go out into the community doing good work really soon.”

The mobile lab will be getting electricity and a Wi-Fi setup for a mobile working station, be able to transport tools and equipment more efficiently for demonstrations, and house lesson kits for the community that correlates with specific workshop topics.

Fierro said being able to have these resources is a huge benefit to surrounding communities wanting to learn more about food sustainability.

“For example, if the workshop topic is ‘how to start a garden,’ we can take all the tools required on how to start a garden, and teach our educational portion, and have the materials needed to incorporate the hands-on demonstration,” Fierro said. “Some people think the trailer is the start of the work we’ve been doing, but it’s really the mobile exhibit to showcase things we’ve already been doing at the farm.”


Kasper said the mobile lab is the perfect extension of the farm, as the goal of the farm has always been centered around student opportunities in agricultural work. The lab is just another avenue for students to be able to learn and teach others about agriculture.

“It’s a really cool aspect of this project,” she said. “We’ve already been doing some community training and several students have been able to take what they’ve learned on the farm through their coursework and experiences working on the farm and have been able to share that with others in the community. It’s a great professional development opportunity and helps build confidence in our students.”

Kasper said there is also a sense of pride within students being able to share things they’ve learned firsthand on the farm with people within the communities that they’re from.

Fierro said that as the trailer continues to develop, the opportunities to work within the community will grow.

“We’re teaching students how to work on a farm, grow their own food, and they’re able to take this knowledge to the community and it’s a great resource for everyone,” he said. “We’re fostering the value of being able to grow your own food and learn how to be sustainable.”

Keep an eye out for the bright orange trailer for workshop opportunities near you, and for more information on events at the Hub of Prosperity, visit the website.

utrgv hub of prosperity farm
Staff and students work at the Hub of Prosperity farm managed by the UTRGV Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement and the UTRGV Agroecology Program on Monday, March 4, 2024, in Edinburg, Texas. (UTRGV photo by Paul Chouy)


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.