New indoor gardening system changes the way we think about food on campus
With a cafeteria renovation and a variety of options for food grown on campus, MacEwan University is bringing the concept of eating local to a new level in the 2016/17 school year.
MacEwan’s Campus Services team spent the past several months implementing a fresh food plan, which involved installing Urban Cultivators—an indoor gardening system that uses a nutrient solution to grow organic produce, like herbs and microgreens. The closed system controls air circulation, light, temperature and water flow, which greatly reduces the incubation period for various plants.
Britney Stojke, marketing coordinator for Aramark, MacEwan’s food contractor, says the project is part of a long-term plan to improve the sustainability of food on campus.
“The addition of Urban Cultivators has been implemented to support the fresh food concept we introduced to MacEwan’s market,” says Britney, highlighting the university’s Tower Gardens project as another element of the concept. “It’s about promoting and supporting eating local to our campus community.”
With the first group of seeds planted in September, food vendors in the cafeteria now have the ability to use ingredients grown only a few steps away.
“It’s the right-behind-you diet, basically,” Britney says with a laugh. “If you want a little bit of greenery on your pizza or your sandwich, it’s just right behind all of our cooks now. They’re turning around, they’re harvesting it and it’s going right on your food.”
By growing food on campus, the university can lessen its dependence on vendors across Canada and decrease the size of its ecological footprint.
Because the herbs, shoots and salad greens grown in the cultivators are harvested and immediately put on food, the need for packaging is eliminated. Locally grown food also reduces the need to ship certain foods in from various places around the world, which means the school will be responsible for fewer fuel emissions.
“We incorporate local produce wherever we can, but this is taking locality and freshness to a new level,” says Britney. “We harvest, and seconds later, it’s on your plate.”
The cafeteria currently has two cultivators: one full unit and one smaller unit used for growing herbs like basil and oregano for pizza toppings. The potential to expand the project exists, and the university can add more units to the campus if necessary.
Britney says the desire for locally grown food on campus was made apparent by several staff and students at the university, and Aramark has taken steps to react, adapt and respond to these requests.
Campus Services and Aramark will continue to move forward with the locally grown concept—examples of which include the university’s beehive and aeroponics installations.
While Urban Cultivator projects have been piloted at other universities, MacEwan’s Campus Services is using this innovative technology to re-conceptualize food on campus. Ten years from now, food on campus will likely look even more sustainable than what we see today.
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