How new technology is helping garden year-round

Outside-in growth

sustainable growth

Sourcing produce from nearby farms or a campus greenhouse is one way to go local. But what about growing greens in a repurposed, 40-by-8-by-9.5-foot shipping container just steps from the dining hall? “You can’t get much closer to your food,” says Kevin Blaney, regional executive chef for Chartwells Higher Education’s Northeast region.

Supporting local farm-to-school initiatives has been a goal of Blaney’s, but the short growing season in New England makes that a challenge for much of the year. To grow lettuces year-round, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Worcester State University recently leased hydroponic shipping container farms.

“Lettuce is something that’s on the menu seven days a week, so the ability to connect the sustainable message of harvesting right here on campus, students are really taking an interest in that,” Blaney says.

Prep & training

To get ready for the hydroponic pod, Blaney and his team selected a site with water and electricity available and poured a concrete pad. Three staff members from each campus visited Boston for a two-day session with his supplier’s farming expert. In addition to a check-in visit, support staff is available by email and phone for questions.

Tech & tools

Built-in technology makes the indoor gardens easy to monitor. “There’s an LCD inside the unit that monitors humidity, temperature and CO2 levels that you can adjust remotely from a smartphone,” Blaney says. “[For example,] I want the temperature to go up for two weeks because it’s going to be really cold.”

Supply

The container’s 256 growing towers will provide some, but not all, of the lettuce the two campuses require; the first harvests of green leaf, red oak and butter lettuce are expected this semester. “You plant in quadrants so you’re constantly harvesting and reseeding,” says Blaney. “You can adjust accordingly for semester breaks or slow periods.”

Cost

Buying a container garden outright starts at $76,000, but because a large capital investment wasn’t realistic for either campus, they chose a monthly lease. “If for some reason this doesn’t work or have the impact I want, or the students aren’t interested in it, I can return it without worrying about a huge expense,” Blaney says.

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Industry News & Opinion

Buckeye Union High School District in Buckeye, Ariz., has introduced monthly chef demos to encourage students to try different foods as well as healthy eating habits, AZ Family reports.

Each month, chefs conduct a lunchtime demo in the cafeteria at the district’s three high schools. After viewing the demo, students are then encouraged to sample some of the dish that was prepared.

The demos were introduced just after each of the cafeterias were renovated with a food court-style layout, allowing students to select from a variety of options during lunch.

Read the full...

Industry News & Opinion

Boston Public Schools is the latest district to join the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit group that aims to help districts provide high-quality student meals while keeping costs down.

With the addition of Boston, the Alliance includes 11 schools and says it now reaches nearly 3.7 million students. The group has grown its total purchasing power to $831 million in food and supplies as it continues to increase its membership.

“Thanks to support from the Kendall Foundation, Boston’s membership in the Alliance will serve our mission of increasing access to locally and...

FSD Resources