Ratcheting up sustainability

Published in FSD Update

Kennesaw State has taken the next step to improving its campus farm program.

Colleges and universities are leading the way in the hyper-local movement, as more and more institutions take advantage of available land to grow their own produce—or at least as much of it as space will permit.
Within this movement, Kennesaw State University, in Georgia, is staking its claim to being the leader in farm-to-campus innovation.

Kennesaw State already has been recognized nationally for its sustainability programs, which include hydroponic gardens inside the dining commons, water reclamation, aerobic digestion, composting/recycling programs and oil-to-biodiesel conversion. Last year it won one of the Operation Innovation Awards at the NRA Show, in Chicago. But the culinary & hospitality services team, led by Senior Director Gary Coltek, isn’t satisfied yet. They have found a way to take an already robust program to the next level.

Armed with a $35,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the department has embarked on a remineralization project. “The practice of remineralization is relatively new to farming and is still considered a cutting-edge method of bio-remediation,” Coltek says. “This ‘feed-the-soil’ approach to farming breaks with from modern agricultural practices and focuses on the overall health of the ecosystem.”

In remineralization, farmers attempt to boost the nutrient value of the ground by adding deep-ocean minerals and/or minimally processed mined materials. In Kennesaw’s case, these have been granite dust, calcium carbonate and rock phosphate. The project began last year, and Coltek says remineralization already is paying off.

“We have had independent testing done on some of the vegetables we’re growing, and these tests have indicated that crops are much more nutritionally dense than typical crops,” he explains. Among the results: kale that contains 315 percent more vitamin C, 125 percent more magnesium, 100 percent more boron, 65 percent more potassium and 36 percent more zinc than typical kale. Similarly, KSU lettuce measured 1,250 percent more vitamin A, 213 percent more magnesium, 200 percent more boron and iron and 66 percent more zinc. Similar results have been seen with wheatgrass, spinach and tomatoes.

The project came about almost be chance. In 2012, the university was given 25 acres of land just two miles from campus to start a farm. The challenge? The land previously had been used as an industrial staging area. As a result, the soil had been degraded. “We had to heavily amend the soil so that necessary nutrients could be restored,” he notes. In studying the best way for those nutrients to be restored, the remineralization project was born.

Coltek adds that returning essential mineral to the soil has benefits that go beyond boosting foods’ nutritional value. “Studies show that remineralization increases earthworm activity and the growth of microorganisms, prevents soil erosion, increases the storage capacity of the soil, increases resistance to insects, disease, frost and drought, and decreases dependence on fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.”

Coltek makes a good argument for investing the time and money into remineralization. Not only does he believe his department is providing better nutrition for its student customers, he also expects to save $253,000 by growing more produce on campus. Coltek plans to plead his case before the National Restaurant Association; Kennesaw’s research will be part of its entry into the 2014 Operator Innovation Awards program.


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