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MSOE graduate students complete Operation Urban Cowboy

Compost is vital to nourishing the soil at Riverview Gardens, a 72-acre urban farm in downtown Appleton. The nonprofit organization’s staff often wished for a compost sifter to process organic compost on site, but they never thought it would be financially feasible.
That’s when eight Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) graduate students arrived on the scene. They were taking a project management course at MSOE’s location in the Fox Cities and offered to design and build a sifter for Riverview as part of their class. The project, which the team dubbed Operation Urban Cowboy, fits well with MSOE’s Servant-Leadership principles. Riverview Gardens is a financially self-sustaining social enterprise that uses urban farming to provide job training for people in need. 
The MSOE students faced a formidable challenge: to move the project from conception to completion in just eleven weeks. “We had to do a lot of research on previous sifters to develop our own design,” says Joe DeHaan, the team’s project manager.
The team designed its sifter to work with Riverview’s tractor and enhanced it with safety features to protect the machine and users. The final product allows Riverview’s staff to sift decomposed organic matter into nutrient-rich compost that can then be added back into the gardens’ soil.
“Everything that has gone into the sifter has come from community donations,” DeHaan says. The team built the device using in-kind donations of materials and a cash donation.
There were a few stressful days when the team ran into delays, but they ultimately succeeded. “I’m amazed at how well it came together over our tight timeline,” says DeHaan, who is working on his master’s degree in engineering management. “I really enjoyed the challenge of going from nothing to a final design and then purchasing all of the materials so that by the end of the academic quarter, we could deliver the final product to the customer.”