On-campus gardens are great for education and marketing a foodservice department, but directors say a garden’s success depends on collaboration.
For foodservice directors looking for ways to extend their operation’s reach beyond the cafeteria, on-campus gardens are an excellent option. Gardens provide education in nutrition and sustainability. Gardens are design elements and offer places for congregation and respite. Gardens are also wonderful tools to connect people throughout a community while uniting them behind a common cause. All of which are an added bonus to the homegrown produce and herbs that gardens provide for an operation.
FSD talked with five operators who have implemented an on-campus garden. Each director’s approach to gardening is different—rooftop, raised beds, large farms—but every director said collaboration was key in planting a successful garden.
Fletcher Allen Health Care
Type of gardens: Healing garden, rooftop
About the gardens: Richard Jarmusz, executive chef at this 550-bed hospital, says campus gardens were a perfect complement to the department’s sustainability efforts. The foodservice team has a strong local foods initiative, including purchasing 70% of all meats from local sources, so Jarmusz says growing herbs and produce on campus was a natural extension.
Five years ago, when the hospital began talks of creating a healing garden for patients, Diane Imrie, director of nutrition services at Fletcher Allen, asked if the department could have some of the space in the healing garden to grow its own produce. Foodservice was given 40% of the garden in which to grow plants such as tomatoes, basil, thyme and green beans. There is also a 12-foot wide trellis where cucumbers are grown. The other 60% of the healing garden is open to patients and staff to walk through. That section of the garden has a variety of flowering plants.
After the success of the healing garden, the foodservice department planted an additional garden at Fanny Allen, another campus within the Fletcher Allen system. At the two gardens, Jarmusz estimates that 600 snap pea plants, 2,000 spinach seeds, 120 basil plants, 250 radish plants, 120 pole bean plants and 120 bush bean plants have been planted.
A third garden is currently being planted, which will be on the roof of the new oncology wing. The rooftop garden consists of eight raised beds that are 4 feet by 16 feet long and 12 raised beds that are 4 feet by 4 feet. Jarmusz says the rooftop will be used as a teaching garden.
Produce from the gardens is used on both patient and retail menus. Recently, Jarmusz made pesto from 12 pounds of basil.
Collaboration: The gardens at Fletcher Allen are tended in large part by a group of 20 foodservice employees who have volunteered their services. In addition to foodservice volunteers, an employee from the facilities department works for eight hours each week on the gardens and other hospital employees and a master gardener also volunteer time.
“We were thinking of making the rooftop garden into a working CSA (community supported agriculture) and getting some families that are in need and seeing if they would like to come in and work for a few hours a week,” Jarmusz says. “In return they would get some food and the educational piece on how to grow things.”
What I’ve learned: “I really had very few obstacles,” Jarmusz says about starting the garden project. Jarmusz says getting space to plant a garden and then getting members from other departments on board can be challenging. “They can be a little hesitant, but once they see the positive effect they are more likely to participate,” he says.
Lebanon Community Schools
Type of gardens: Raised beds
About the gardens: Four years ago, Pam Lessley, director of nutrition at the 4,300-student district, found out there were two greenhouses at Seven Oaks Middle School that were being used for storage. The greenhouses had been used in the past to grow plants but had lain dormant for several years. Lessley, a teacher and the principal formed a committee to revitalize the greenhouses and plant a school garden.
“I had always had trouble with kids eating vegetables off the salad bars and I thought maybe if they had some ownership in it they might eat it better,” Lessley says. “That’s where the whole idea for the garden came from.”
The garden grows many types of lettuces, tomatoes, carrots, corn, watermelon, cucumbers and cauliflower, among other items. Students are involved in every aspect of the garden. Lessley says about 200 students work on the garden every day through a class that uses the garden as a teaching tool.
The students who work in the garden are eating more produce off the salad bar, she says. “One little kid said, ‘I never knew what radishes were, but now I can’t get enough of them.’ To us, that’s a success story.”
Lessley says Lebanon is being used as a model for the rest of the state on how to start school gardens. “The state is watching what we are doing and they are in the process of writing curriculum and plans about what to do and what not to do,” she says. Since the initial garden at Seven Oaks, two additional gardens have been planted. The school board also recently approved a 2-acre teaching garden at another school, which will include an orchard and a large production garden that will grow produce for every school’s salad bars.
Collaboration: Lessley and the teacher relied heavily on help from several local master gardeners, who not only provided expertise in planting and harvesting plants but also boots for the students. The gardens are funded in large part from donations from Good Samaritan Hospitals and other community partners like the local Rotary Club.
In the summer, Lessley encourages parents and community members to help with maintenance of the garden. In exchange for their help, the parents can take home produce from the garden.
Lessley says getting administration’s support for the project was not difficult. “The principal had read an article about New York and how they were growing vegetables in gardens on rooftops. He got to thinking that if they could do it, we could do it too. We have lots of ground out here.”
What I’ve learned: “Kids can work together with adults very well,” Lessley says. “The kids learned responsibility. They know if they don’t water the plants, they die. The kids learned to work together. I have learned that kids are interested in this kind of thing. It gets the kids outside, even in the winter. Our winters are fairly mild.”
Lessley also says the gardens have helped put school nutrition services in a positive spotlight. “The garden has helped us to show the community that we are on board with fighting obesity in the community,” she says. “We are doing what we can to help that situation.”
University of Maryland
College Park, Md.
Type of gardens: Rooftop
About the gardens: “The university does not have a lot of spare land,” says Joe Mullineaux, senior associate director at this 35,000-student university. “Even though we are an agricultural school we have been surrounded by the suburbs.” With no land available, Mullineaux turned to something the university had ample amount of: rooftops.
“I lived in a high-rise residence hall for four years, and the view out of my window was the top of the dining hall and it was ugly,” Mullineaux says. “I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if you could look out your residence hall and not see all that mechanical equipment. You could see something green.”
The first rooftop garden was experimental, covering only a series of 16-square-foot plots on the roof of one of the dining halls. Because the dining hall is surrounded by other high-rise buildings, the amount of light the roof receives affects what types of plants can grow. Corn and watermelon didn’t grow because of low light levels. The department uses containers as planters and compost from food waste is used with a mixture of topsoil to plant produce and herbs in. Rainwater and condensation from refrigeration units is collected to use for irrigating the garden.
Mullineaux says the department is working to put rooftop gardens on the other two dining halls. These gardens will cover the entire roof.
“We are not going to produce any quantity that we need,” Mullineaux says. “The gardens are more of an educational tool and making a statement.” Part of that statement is environmental, showing how plants can be grown from recycled containers, with compost from food scraps and collected rainwater. The rooftop gardens also help reduce heat and lower air conditioning needs in the building.
Collaboration: Mullineaux says the gardens have been successful because of the partnership between dining services and the Student Government Association’s environmental committee. The committee provides the majority of maintenance and care for the gardens. As part of the university’s wellness initiative, students sign up to tend the garden because they find gardening a relaxing task.
A smaller project started recently by dining services is planting black raspberry bushes around campus. Students are encouraged to pick the berries for their own consumption. The problem was the berries were ripe during the summer when most students are not on campus. Dining services worked with one of the university’s professors to develop a black raspberry that ripens in September when fall classes begin.
What I’ve learned: “The first thing you have to do is your homework and test a lot of things,” Mullineaux says. “Since dining services people aren’t necessarily experts on the growing end, recruit people who know what they are doing to help you. Most schools have somebody who is a master gardener, an ag department or some interested students. That’s really been our key to success.”
Type of gardens: Planters
About the garden: In May the foodservice team, led by Marcey Miller, general manager with Parkhurst Dining Services, planted two herb gardens in saucers outside Freddie’s Café on Bayer Corp.’s campus. “We thought that since it was the first time ever to do a garden at Bayer, we were going to start with a kind of simple, foolproof garden,” Miller says. Miller says the saucers are a test to see how the herb garden is received. She hopes that next year Bayer will give the department some land outside Freddie’s to grow more herbs and some vegetables.
Basil, parsley, cilantro, tarragon and purple basil are grown in the two saucers. At least one item at Freddie’s uses an herb from the garden each day. One popular item is white pizza, which is made with basil from the garden. Another item is a cilantro-grilled chicken. When an item is made using an herb from the garden, there is a note stating, “Made with cilantro from Freddie’s herb garden.”
Collaboration: The herb garden is a collaborative effort between several departments at Bayer, including dining services, the wellness department, the maintenance department and the Bayer Material Science Sustainability Community Council. “It is very important to have collaboration with the garden,” Miller says. “They will help promote and advertise. They talk it up and then there is more awareness. If all teams on campus know and they are for the garden, it’s a good thing. If not, you can be fighting.”
What I’ve learned: “Go ahead and take the chance,” Miller says about starting a campus garden. “I was a little leery about not being here on the weekends and we also have a lot of wildlife around, but it’s been awesome. The guest feedback had been good.”
Baltimore City Public Schools
Type of gardens: 33-acre farm and 30 school gardens
About the gardens: In 2008 when Tony Geraci, director of food and nutrition services for the 85,000-student district, was hired, one of the things on his to-do list was to transform an abandoned 33-acre plot into a farm. The result was the Great Kids Farm, which grows all types of produce and is home to goats, bees, chickens and worms. A large aspect of the farm is teaching students. “It’s important that kids eat good food, but I want my kids to have jobs and I want them to go to college. We are pushing getting kids on career tracks in agro-hospitality,” Geraci says.
Geraci educates students about agro-hospitality, a phrase he coined for farm-to-school programs, by bringing them to the farm. The students learn about the planting, growing and harvesting process. When they leave, they take bulbs, which have been grown in the farm’s greenhouses, to plant in gardens at their schools. Thirty school gardens have been planted. While the school gardens are used more for educational purposes, produce from the Great Kids Farm is used in the cafeterias.
Collaboration: Geraci says foodservice plays a major role in starting the school gardens. He helps schools decide what to plant, how to plant, i.e. raised gardens or planters, and helps the schools with any questions they have. After starting the gardens, Geraci says “a local champion” at the school takes over most of the maintenance of the garden. The local champion is normally a teacher or staff member.
Geraci says without partnerships the Great Kids Farm and the school gardens never would have succeeded. When Geraci was given the go-ahead to start the farm, he was given limited resources. He turned to the community for donations from tools to goats and manual labor with which to start the farm.
What I’ve learned: “Build a plan and be deliberate in your direction,” Geraci says. “Start small, but start. Allow your plans to evolve and change. Everybody is inexperienced starting off. People will bring a lot of ideas that you didn’t consider when you started.” Geraci suggests contacting local farm-to-school networks, the local Department of Agriculture office and local gardening clubs for help getting started. He also says nurseries and garden centers are a great place to get connected to local resources.