Hydroponic Garden Spruces Up Space

Gonzaga University partners with local farmer to create indoor garden.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

Hydroponic growing produces a consistent product for
Gonzaga University.

SPOKANE, Wash.—An empty expanse of windows inspired dining services at Gonzaga University to install a hydroponic garden. Chuck Faulkinberry, resident district manager for Zag Dining by Sodexo at the university, says bringing greenery to the café is one way to counter the grey Pacific Northwest skies that students see out the windows.  

 “We met with a local hydroponic farmer, and he partnered with us to get the garden up and running last summer,” Faulkinberry says.

The department installed the hydroponic garden in a bay of windows in the dining hall. The garden currently is used to grow two varieties of bibb lettuce. The 300 heads produced monthly account for 10% to 15% of the department’s lettuce needs. The garden will also serve as a learning lab for Gonzaga students, faculty and staff, with the hope that the program can eventually be expanded to the University Center, currently under construction.

“We want to make sure everything works right,” Faulkinberry says. “Then we will start to venture into growing other products and also expanding the space. We have a lot of windows and we are only utilizing about 10% of the window space right now.”

Dining services already was buying a case of hydroponically grown lettuce per day from the local farmer, Stewart Fry, so customers were already accustomed to the product by the time the dining room garden was built. Even though the garden is now producing lettuce, the department still buys a case of hydroponic lettuce from Fry twice a week.

“Each head of lettuce costs $2, which makes a case of 12 cost $24, which means we were spending $168 a week last year,” says Sarah Clifford, marketing manager for Zag Dining by Sodexo. “As of right now, we are saving approximately $120 a week because of the garden. We are mainly using the lettuce for lunch service at our Tossed to Order salad program.”

Learning hydroponics: Faulkinberry says getting university administrators on board early on helped get the project off the ground. Working with the health department to satisfy its requirements was also important. He says the project was relatively easy because hydroponics doesn’t require soil, fertilizer or pest control, which are the usual sources of garden problems.

“The main thing [we learned about hydroponics] was that it produces a consistent product,” Faulkinberry says. “It’s very sustainable. It uses only about 30% of the water that it takes to grow [plants] in soil. It’s very self-contained, and the nutrients come from saline so it’s all natural.

“[The garden] has really made a big impact on the look of the dining room. We may be a little biased, but we feel like the flavor of the lettuce is much better.

At a cost of less than $20,000, “it’s been well worth it,” Faulkinberry says. Faulkinberry advises other operators interested in trying a hydroponic garden to get everyone involved early, especially administrators, since many are looking to invest in sustainability projects. Clifford also recommends partnering with resources such as a local farmer like Fry.

“[That partnership] was critical for us in getting the garden up and running,” Clifford says. “We were able to purchase from him for a year leading up to the garden, so we were able to help out a local business. For supporting his business he was willing to help us build the garden. It was win-win.”

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
beau rivage resort blended burger

Stealth health is so 1998. When author Evelyn Tribole’s original book on sneaking healthy add-ons into meals was published nearly 20 years ago, there may have been a genuine nutrition need to fill. But as today’s diners are increasingly requesting more produce at the center of the plate, another need has taken the lead: a desire for creativity. Here’s how operators are openly blending meat with other ingredients—or eliminating animal products entirely—to take protein to another level.

In April, dining halls at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., began offering the Beyond Burger, a...

Ideas and Innovation
desserts plate

We’re knocking down a wall in our bar area, which will create a more inviting atmosphere and allow us to host a coffee and dessert bar in the space on off nights when the bar is closed.

Ideas and Innovation
soup sandwich

Aside from Black Friday shoppers, there may be no crowd of people more eager to get to their bounty than wedding guests headed for the passed appetizers. While they’re surely thrilled for the bride and groom, that feeling comes second to the thrill of landing that first shrimp skewer—especially after a long ceremony. Same goes for work-related cocktail parties. Caught up in an awkward conversation? Oh look, it’s the mini-grilled cheese guy!

This month, FoodService Director takes a deep dive into catering, from the latest and greatest in menus to starting a new program at your...

Ideas and Innovation
shrimp lemon

In an interview with Bon Appetit magazine, Victor Clay, a line cook at Nobu Dallas in Texas, reveals his two simple tricks to prep an average of 15 to 20 shrimp per minute.

First, use kitchen shears to split the back of the shrimp. Then, before removing the vein, run the shrimp under cold water, which will loosen the vein. This cuts down on cleaning time, and prevents cooks from having to soak and rinse the shrimp afterward.

FSD Resources