In high-volume operations, few look at herb gardens as the end-all-be-all budgeting solution. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a return on the investment. The value, operators say, is in the message herb gardens and herb walls send—that an operation uses ingredients that are fresh, sustainable and healthy. Here’s how the growing areas have paid off at three operations.
A cafeteria wall at Miles River Middle School in South Hamilton, Mass., houses three rows of hydroponic lettuce spearheaded by an interdisciplinary group of health, science, math, technology and foodservice employees. Right now, the wall grows a case of lettuce per week, says Catherine Donovan, the district’s director of food services. The yield is used in the cafeteria’s salad bar, but it doesn’t offer much cost savings. The garden’s real value is as a teaching tool to connect with students, she says.
At the University of Washington in Seattle, the Bay Laurel Catering department boasts a fresh supply of its namesake herb from trees grown in the university’s rooftop garden. Tracey MacRae, campus executive chef, sources basil for housemade pesto from the 1,000-square-foot plot, and says the work is worth the expense to communicate the university’s brand values and authenticity. “It’s not like we’re saying, ‘We’re really saving money on cilantro,’” she says. “It’s more about, it’s the right thing to do. It’s part of our farm program, and it’s important.”
Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., expects some savings on its suspended herb boxes filled with curry, thyme, oregano and basil, though it faced unanticipated expenses on heat lamps and electricity to keep the garden thriving all year. “In general, it’s about challenging the cooks to snip some fresh herbs and incorporate them into their food,” says Scott Anderson, assistant director of dining services. He hopes to expand the design across campus.