On Teaching Gardens, for Robin Hadnett

Teaching garden also provides opportunity for dining services.

When the school of family and consumer sciences at the University of Akron in Ohio wanted to plant a culinary teaching garden to supplement its coursework, the school contacted dining services personnel to see if they’d like to be involved. We spoke to Robin Hadnett, general manager of residential dining, about how her department was able to aid in the garden’s construction and what the future holds for the garden.

Q. How did the idea for the garden come about?

The garden was the brainchild of the school of family and consumer sciences. They do a lot of classes not only about nutrition but also about preparing food. They decided they wanted to start growing some fresh vegetables that they could use for the meals prepared as part of this coursework. The garden would also help teach students about how to actually grow these items. They wanted the students to appreciate what goes into the food a little bit more.

We have always had a collaboration with that college, which for us has been almost like having dietitians on call. I work with a lot of their students. Every Tuesday we give them hands-on work experience. I give them projects to work on such as nutritional analysis of menus. This year the school reached out to me and ask if we’d be interested in taking part in the garden and using it to grow our own herbs and vegetables. We thought that was a fantastic idea. This way we have our herbs in the fall and we can actually advertise in the dining hall that these were grown on campus. I thought it was a great opportunity for us.

Q. What is the garden currently being used for?

The garden is the outdoor classroom for the school of family and consumer sciences. It is now in its second year of planting vegetables, herbs and edible flowers that students in nutrition and dietetics programs will use in meal preparation classes. Funding for the garden was provided by a $10,000 gift from The University of Akron Women's Committee. UA's grounds crew handled the bed preparation.

We’ve got blueberry bushes over there and lavender that they planted last year that has come back beautifully. They also planted unique items such as borage. It’s kind of an old-fashioned herb that people didn’t know much about. They have planted tomatoes, peppers and pole beans. This summer dining services took over one whole end of the garden, where we have planted basil, thyme, dill, cilantro, oregano and tarragon.  

Q. Are there any plans in place to secure vegetables for the dining hall?

Not at this point. We are going to allow the school to use them for their advanced food prep classes. Typically when they get their food for their classes they order it through me so this is skipping that step. What we talked about for next year is really expanding what we plant in the garden. I was very inspired by The Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio, which grows a lot of items that chefs all over the country use. They grow specialty produce and they also have a program called Veggie U. where kids in the area can go to the garden and learn about the produce. I’m hoping that since I have a good relationship with Farmer Jones from The Chef’s Garden we can use his advice to take our garden even further by adding some really unique items. Then we can start using those items in the dining hall and catering.

Q. What were some of the challenges in establishing the garden?

I’m not sure there were any big challenges. I think maybe one of the challenges is just working with different personalities. We had some strong personalities clash, but we worked it out. My chef is really into farming so he really took to this and ran with it. I was really happy we were able to get an irrigation system installed this year. I was worried about that. 

Q. What kind of advice would you give to other operators who might want to do something similar?

I think they should. As more people and campuses are heading down a sustainable road, I think having a garden like this speaks to that. Here we are growing food on our own campus that we are going to be using in the dining hall. It’s also good for the students to actually touch and feel and see what the process of growing these fruits and vegetables is all about. We’re actually looking into installing an indoor herb garden so we can have fresh herbs year round.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Maryland will begin offering weekly specials at all of its dining halls this semester, The Diamond Back reports.

The weekday specials will allow Dining Services to offer past menu items that students miss as well as new dishes students have been requesting, according to a spokesperson.

Students can find out which specials are being offered each week via dining hall table tents as well as through Dining Services’ social media. During select weeks, the specials may reflect a particular theme, such as Taste of the South.

Read the full story via...

Menu Development
chicken tetrazzini bowl

The No Whey station in the main dining hall at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga., offers students meals that are free of the eight most common allergens. When Brittany Parham, the dietitian who oversees the station, polled food-sensitive students on which favorites they missed most, “comfort foods” was the overwhelming response. Parham, who herself has food allergies, worked with chefs on the 20,000-student campus to focus on allergen-free versions of pasta bakes, biscuits, banana bread and other down-home dishes. Recently, the chefs reworked the school’s traditional chicken...

Ideas and Innovation
university chicago medical center renovation workers

As The University of Chicago Medical Center prepared for the revamp of one of its kitchens to feed an additional 202 patients, it wasn’t just foodservice executives coming to the table to make decisions. The process, which began in fall 2014, involved hourly employees from the ground up, says Daryl Wilkerson, vice president of support services. “They actually helped build this [kitchen], which is why I think this is so spectacular,” he says. “Normally what you’ll get in a lot of projects is senior people sitting around in shirts and ties making decisions.”

The hospital follows the...

Ideas and Innovation
idea bulb innovation concept

There’s no feeling quite like the “spark of inspiration” that Dawn Aubrey , associate director of housing for dining services at the University of Illinois, cites in this month’s Steal This Idea-themed cover story. That rush of blood and endorphins to the brain when everything comes together is like nothing else, and often finds me falling over furniture because I’m so excited to start putting plans into action. Unfortunately, I also bruise easily.

Throughout this issue, we’ve highlighted stealable ideas in all realms of noncommercial foodservice, from protein-focused sides to...

FSD Resources