Sustaining a Dream
by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/editor-One College Avenue.Watch video
Planted during the Fall 2012 semester at the college’s Schneebeli Earth Science Center, the Campus Community Garden is offering fresh learning opportunities – and food options – to the college’s campuses.
The first phase offers lettuce and tomatoes grown in a hydroculture environment that was assembled by campus volunteers. In April, School of Hospitality students planted a raised-bed section where peas, squash and a variety of root vegetables are growing.
“The system being used does not require the use of pesticides, reduces the use of water and allows vegetables to be grown anywhere.”
Jonathan T. Hall
Landscape/horticulture technology student and a member of the garden committee
Several campus departments are reaping the benefits of the Campus Community Garden, which serves as a teaching tool in Sustainable Crop Production and other landscape/horticulture technology courses. Culinary arts students use the fresh, pesticide-free produce in Le Jeune Chef Restaurant, the fine-dining eatery where students serve the public. In addition, produce is sold to the community at large during the School of Hospitality’s weekly bread and pastry sales in The Market, Le Marche Commun.
The college’s Dining Services operation uses the produce for its salad bars and “Grab ’n’ Go” pre-packaged salads and sandwiches. Any remaining produce is donated to local food banks.
A channel system, used for lettuce-family plants, uses the “nutrient film technique” and can grow more than 10,000 heads of lettuce annually. The innovative system eliminates the runoff of traditional crop production by circulating nutrient-enriched water through 58 channels, each of which accommodates 15 heads of lettuce. Before being recirculated, water passes through a “fertroller,” an automated dosing system that analyzes the water and injects needed nutrients.
The garden’s Dutch bucket growing system, used for tomatoes, can sustain 120 plants and produce up to 2.5 tons of vegetables each year. Like the channel system used for lettuce, the Dutch bucket system uses only nutrient-enriched water that circulates through 12-inch-by-12-inch pots filled with perlite.
Plants begin in a controlled environment lovingly referred to as “the nursery.” There, seeds are planted in rock wool and nurtured until they reach transplant size.
Dennis P. Skinner, assistant professor of horticulture, helps to pull the first harvest from the garden in early November. Skinner helped to spearhead the garden initiative. Among its chief goals, the project seeks to provide a living laboratory for alternative agriculture technologies and to offer opportunities for employee and student volunteers to work together as a community.
Diners Club members, all students in the School of Hospitality, get a lesson in how the hydroculture systems operate courtesy of Layne E. Eggers, former assistant dean of hospitality, who proposed the garden. Students, including members of the Diners Club and the School of Natural Resources Management’s Horticulture Club, are involved in overseeing and managing the garden. Students make up half of the 12-member community garden committee.
Ripe. Fresh. Nutritious.
“Working with the product in lab, I really notice the ripeness of the tomatoes, especially, compared to the tomatoes coming from elsewhere,” said Benjamin A. King, a culinary arts and systems student and president of the Diners Club. “The tomatoes coming from the garden have a great ripe, fresh tomato smell, something that reminds me of a typical garden in the summer, yet we can get this in the middle of winter and beyond, and for much less cost. The flavor and texture of the lettuce are just what you expect them to be, bright in color and crisp, tasting as they were meant to. The products are allowed to grow as they want, letting the tomatoes ripen on the vine, developing that flavor. And the time from farm to plate is substantially cut down, taking only a day when the product is used the same day it arrives. Typically, the product has been out of the ground for a week for conventional products, before they even arrive at the store for you to buy, losing flavor and nutrients along the way.”
While the bulk of the produce is used in the college’s Dining Services units and Le Jeune Chef Restaurant, some is sold to the community at large during the School of Hospitality’s weekly bread and pastry sales. Proceeds from the sales are used for the garden, with hopes of making it a self-sustaining venture. Equipment for the garden was purchased using funds from the Student Government Association, corporate donations and fundraising dinners hosted by the Diners Club and Horticulture Club.