Five Questions for: Janet Paul Rice

Five Questions, Janet Paul Rice, Concordia CollegeThe spring planting of a campus garden at 2,800-student Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., means some local produce for dining services. More importantly, according to Janet Paul Rice, associate director of dining services, the garden will feature a prominent education component. Paul Rice talks to FSD about how both college and elementary students will have the chance to work and learn from the garden.

How did the garden get started?

The idea for a garden began with the food-working group of Concordia's sustainability task force. One of the goals suggested for the advancement of sustainability was the establishment of a campus garden. However, in interviewing other colleges, we found that the sustainability of gardens can be challenging—getting it started is easy, keeping it going can be difficult. As a result, we made our garden part of a history capstone course called "Building Sustainable Communities." The course focuses not only on food history, but also on nonprofit administration. The students enrolled in the course will more or less operate the garden as a nonprofit organization. We also thought it would be a great opportunity to invite elementary school students to harvest items from the pizza garden and then have our culinary team help create their pizzas and teach them about where food comes from. The garden provides the ultimate in local food—it is grown right on campus. It doesn't get much more local or fresh than that.

What were some of the biggest challenges involved with implementing the garden?

The biggest challenge was undoubtedly figuring out how to keep the garden self-sustaining. The food-working group didn't want to go through the work and expense of starting a garden if it was only going to fall away during the year when there were not dedicated volunteers to oversee it. Absolutely all of the credit for the idea of the capstone course, which will keep the garden going, goes to Dr. Gretchen Harvey of the history department. She is also a community garden organizer and a member of the food-working group. It was her brainchild from the beginning. This initial garden is quite small—only about 20' x 50'—so it really cannot generate enough produce to be practical in terms of providing significant amounts of food for dining services. We decided we would begin with this one plot, and hope to incorporate additional plots in various green spaces around campus. We think the potential is very good to be able to demonstrate aggressive urban gardening as a viable model for our students and the community.

What is planted in the garden?

There are a few herbs and ornamental flowers to add aesthetic value, but the bulk of the garden is dedicated to two concepts: a pizza/salsa garden and a Three Sisters garden. The pizza/salsa garden includes a variety of peppers, tomatoes and onions, all of which can be used to make either pizza or salsa, something school children will enjoy a great deal. The Three Sisters garden is a nod to the capstone course being housed in the history department. In keeping with traditional Native American methods, this section promotes the historical concept of sustainable agriculture in the form of companion planting—corn, squash or pumpkins and beans as complementary plants that benefit each other and the soil. The first priority of the garden is to support the learning process. Dining Services has agreed to buy at market prices any excess produce over and above that. We will also sell excess produce at the campus farmer's market, which is also a recent project of the food-working group.

What is involved with the educational component for the college students as well as the elementary students?

Our students will learn not only about food security and sustainability through the history component, but also valuable practical skills in nonprofit administration—not to mention even more practical skills in urban gardening. Elementary school students will have a hands-on view and experience in how plants grow and where food comes from—pizza doesn't have to come in a cardboard box. Not only can you make pizza or salsa yourself, it is very satisfying and delicious to do so. There is great potential to involve our students majoring in elementary education and food and nutrition in developing curricula and learning projects revolving around the garden.

What advice would you give to other operators about implementing a garden?

Start planning early. It takes more time than you think to lay the groundwork, so to speak. Also, make sure you build in a means for sustaining the garden, not just getting it going.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is adding an additional $200 in dining dollars to each student's dining plan this fall, The GW Hatchet reports.

The boost comes just a year after the university switched to an open-format dining plan that allows students to spend their entire meal fund off campus; allowed venues include about 90 grocery stores and restaurants.

While students support the new plan, they are concerned about dining affordability. In conjunction with discounted meal deals that were implemented last semester, school officials hope the extra $200...

Ideas and Innovation
breakfast restaurant food

This March, past FSD of the Month Randy Lait and his team gave the FoodService Director staff a tour of the operations at North Carolina State University. During our visit, Randy shared how data is affecting their menu creation and menu mix. At the university, they’re encouraging chefs to use big data—and not just gut feelings—to inform menu decisions.

Every foodservice operator wants to offer more contemporary items in order to please their customer base and keep chefs challenged and engaged. Many chefs make those decisions based on their own tastes, or what’s exciting them at the...

Ideas and Innovation
french press

While a French press isn’t a tool found in most noncommercial kitchens, operators might want to think twice about multiple uses for this fancy coffee maker. Staff at the Hard Rock Cafe are using the French press to muddle fruit and alcohol for their mixed drinks, while at Chicago bar Moneygun, bartenders use a French press to blend spices and tea for hot toddys.

Ideas and Innovation
student food tray

Stories of students who can’t pay for lunch being given a subpar meal or shamed for their debt have proliferated in recent years, and it’s not an uncommon problem. The SNA’s 2016 School Nutrition Operations Report found that about three-quarters of school districts had an unpaid student meal debt at the end of last school year, an increase from 71% of districts reporting debt in 2014.

Government has begun to take action. In April, the USDA issued new regulations mandating that schools implement unpaid meal policies by the start of the 2017-18 school year and clarifying that schools...

FSD Resources