The Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment (TFISE) was first established as the Center for the Environment in the year 2000. It was founded on a generous gift by Tracy Farmer, a long time Lexington area entrepreneur and horseman, and matched by Kentucky’s Research Challenge Trust Fund. Mr. Farmer noted the interrelated nature of a healthy environment, a vital economy, thriving communities and individual wellbeing. His vision was to create a center at the University of Kentucky, focused on equipping our current generation of Kentuckians to thrive by building the research, teaching, and outreach capacity to manage our shared environment for future generations.

In 2009, under the leadership of Dr. Paul Bertsch, the Center was re-named the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment and made a University-wide Center under the Vice President for Research. This move allowed the newly minted TFISE to broaden its sustainability scope, facilitate cross-college collaborations, and create a campus-level entity for coordinating research, teaching, and outreach efforts focused on sustainability and the environment. As TFISE Director from 2009 -2013, Dr. Bertsch endeavored to establish research programs in sustainable biofuels and in the creation of a critical zone observatory, in addition to outreach and educational efforts.

In 2013, under Dr. Rebecca McCulley’s leadership, TFISE focused its mission on energizing our campus sustainability networks to elevate the climate of sustainability on the UK campus. Through re-energizing faculty "Working Groups", developing novel internal grant-making programs, being an active and engaged part of sustainability-related conversations all over campus, the TFISE took on an increased relevance and became an indispensable feature in sustainability-related work throughout the research, instruction, and outreach missions of our campus.

Starting in 2018, TFISE began its partnership with the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute, led by Dr. Lindell Ormsbee. A powerful advocate who had a role in the original Farmer Center leadership, Dr. Ormsbee envisaged a future in which the TFISE and KWRRI teams could leverage strengths and share existing resources in order to make greater progress towards each institute’s independent mission.

In 2022, Dr. D. Allan Butterfield began to refocus TFISE more toward environmental endeavors, working closely with the relatively new Center for the Environment, while keeping key aspects of sustainability efforts.


Interdisciplinary Faculty Working Groups

For several years, the TFISE supported a number of faculty working groups that engaged a variety of topics with a transdisciplinary approach. The links below provide a summary of the work of some of these groups:


Historic Outreach


An emblematic example of TFISE’s role in facilitating the campus as a living laboratory while making meaningful environmental change. It was installed as a storm water filtration soft structure that provides storm water clean up in a sensitive area of south campus while exposing commuters to the basics of pollinator and wildlife habitat in constructed wetlands. In 2018 we are continuing development with the addition of signage to help inform users and passers-by and to promote visitor and data logs. TFISE supports semi-annual clean-ups to maintain the CATchment each April and October.  Learn more

CCG: Campus Community Gardens at Shawneetown

Originally installed in 2009 through the Gaines Scholar Program and  improved in 2014 as part of a Sustainability Challenge GrantCultivating Place for a Sustainable Community: revitalizing the Shawneetown Community Garden, the CCG are a destination for residents of the Graduate and Family Housing and the broader campus to grow nourishment and community through association and interaction. TFISE Associate Director, Dr. Krista Jacobsen has renewed support for regular maintenance of the CCG on an as needed basis as part of the TFISE service mission. Learn more