Garden Party

Urban and rural, gardens are aiding sustainability at Parkhurst accounts.

Reed Smith's Lion's Den's Rooftop Terrace garden
grows tomatoes, peppers, oregano, thyme and stevia.

PITTSBURGH—Gardens are springing up all over the world of Parkhurst Dining Services, and the foodservice management firm is keeping its sustainability coordinator busy fielding all manner of requests dealing with environmental topics.

“The urban gardens in our B&I operations, and those at a lot of our universities, is a growing trend, and it’s a way that we can involve other parts of the companies or
institutions we are doing foodservice for,” says Jamie Moore, director of sourcing and sustainability for Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Parkhurst’s parent company. “We’ve worked on developing ‘green’ committees on campuses or in the business setting so it’s not just our folks who are involved.”

Parkhurst’s more recent garden settings include Reed Smith, a law firm in downtown Pittsburgh; the Pittsburgh Steelers headquarters and training facility, located on the city’s South Side, and the Bayer Corp., in the suburbs near Pittsburgh International Airport.

At Reed Smith, the garden’s venue is the Lion’s Den Rooftop Terrace, where executive chef Jeff Shaffer grows four types of tomatoes: beefsteak, speckled Roma, tigerella and banana legs. Shaffer also grows California Wonder peppers, oregano, thyme and stevia. This summer, more garden space will be made available at Reed Smith as decorative plants are replaced with vegetables and herbs.

At Bayer, decorative planters  have been converted to grow a variety of herbs, including basil, rosemary, cilantro, tarragon, chives and parsley. An example of Moore’s attempts to get clients involved in sustainability, the herb garden is a collaborative effort between Parkhurst chef Jim Morgan and the Bayer Material Science Sustainability Community Council.

“We hope that the herb garden will demonstrate to employees that planting a garden doesn’t take a lot of time or space,” says Morgan. “With the help of a few volunteers our garden was planted in less than 45 minutes.”

At the Steelers’ offices, chef Corey Hayes grows sage, basil and purple basil, rosemary, cilantro, parsley, oregano and thyme, all of which are used in the preparation of fresh items served to players and office personnel.

Another B&I location that plans to add gardens is PNC, a financial services company with offices in downtown Pittsburgh and on the city’s North Shore. The company recently created the Eco Bistro, a sustainable café on which other PNC offices can model their foodservice programs. At the Eco Bistro site on the North Shore, plans call for both indoor and outdoor gardens to be built this spring, to grow both produce and herbs. A community supported agriculture program also will be set in motion, where customers will have the chance to prepurchase weekly boxes of fruits and vegetables from local farms. [Read more about PNC’s Eco Bistro here and here.]

The college scene: A more challenging scenario for Parkhurst is occurring at several of its college and university accounts, where Moore is trying to involve clients more heavily in sustainability.

“A number of our universities are being given farms, mostly from alumni, that they have no idea what to do with,” says Moore. “In some cases the administration is coming to us wanting to set up farms. We have to work with them, ask them, ‘what is it you want to grow?’ They don’t realize the work that is involved in setting up a farm. Who will tend it? How will you harvest the food?”

One campus where the conversion has been successful is Mercyhurst College, in Erie, Pa. Mercyhurst received 300 acres of land a few years ago. According to Moore, three years ago, one acre was turned into a farm, with produce being used by dining services. That space has since grown to five acres, and the college plans to convert another five acres this year to grow food for a local food bank.

“At Delaware Valley College [in Doylestown, Pa.], we’ve taken sustainability to the next level,” Moore adds. “This is an agricultural school and not one of the things being raised on campus was being used in the dining halls. They have a dairy, they’ve got cattle, hogs, sheep, lambs. One of the projects we’ve been working on has been the integration of those products into our facilities.”

Setting the rules: As Parkhurst becomes more involved with both small- and large-scale gardening, Moore says he has developed a growers’ manual that “walks the chef or director through the process of how to grow food.”

“It’s basically food safety in reference to growing the food,” he explains. “We talk about knowing what you are putting into the soil and on the plants. We don’t want to harm people with the food we’re growing. One of our clients, Bayer, produces herbicides and pesticides, and we are working with them on understanding what we should use and what products we ultimately will purchase. I prefer growing organically, but I know that’s not going to be the case in all our locations. So the growers’ manual says, if you need to use [fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides], this is what we recommend.”

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