Zag Dining by Sodexo is taking its local food initiative to the next level with the unveiling of a new hydroponic garden in the COG. Students may soon be munching on produce that is grown as close as the windowsills in the cafeteria.
The garden is the product of a year of research by Zag Dining in tandem with C&S Hydrohuts, a local commercial hydroponic garden.
“Stewart Fry, the co-owner of C&S Hydrohuts, helped our team come up with a plan as how we could implement a garden in the COG utilizing its large light filled windows,” Sarah Clifford, the Zag Dining marketing manager, said. “Since we were short on time and there was a lot of research and prep work that had to go into actually physically starting the garden, we decided to start our hydroponic journey by purchasing from C&S Hydrohuts for the 2011-12 academic school year.”
After a thorough research and approval process, the COG hydroponic garden finally became operational in July with the first planting of Bibb and Red Leaf lettuce seedlings. The seedlings are planted in a culture with nutrient-rich Coco Peat, which dissolves into a water reservoir that regulates nutrient levels. The first lettuce sprouted within three weeks. The garden is expected to produce 200 to 300 heads of lettuce a month upon maturation.
However, this is just the learning phase for Zag Dining. 200 to 300 heads of lettuce is hardly enough to cover 10-15 percent of the need of lettuce in the COG. For the time being, the hydroponic lettuce will only be used in the Tossed to Order Salad station as a part of Flavours Catering. The future goal for the hydroponic garden is to yield more produce and grow a greater variety.
“We are hoping to work out any kinks and as we learn more about hydroponic gardening to expand our variety of produce,” Clifford said. “Our ultimate goal is to be experts in the field by the time the University Center is built, so we can create a large scale hydroponic garden in the new building.”
Hydroponic gardening is not a new method. Sir Francis Bacon originated the idea during the scientific revolution. It is now considered the best alternative to traditional farming. A hydroponic garden is advantageous because it requires less water, space and growing time than traditional farming methods. In addition, contamination of the food and environment is virtually nonexistent, because hydroponic gardens do not involve dirt, soil or pesticides. Hydroponic gardening is becoming increasingly important in areas with harsh environments and to the planet as the availability of resources changes.
“Hydroponic gardening really is the agriculture of the future,” Chuck Faulkinberry, the resident district manager for Sodexo, said. “If students really took this idea and ran with it, they could take this type of gardening around the world and help feed Third World countries where traditional farming is not always possible.”
Zag Dining intends the garden to serve a dual purpose. It will serve as a learning lab on sustainability for students, staff and other customers; and it will yield produce for the COG. The hope is that students across all learning backgrounds will be encouraged to get involved in the sustainable design and production of this gardening method. So while you may be thinking about bacon during the next salad you eat, perhaps you also will channel a little Bacon and utilize the benefits of soilless agriculture.