We all know that fresh veggies are a becoming more and more of a luxury now-a-days. Sourcing vegetables from responsible sources can get tricky as a consumer, trying to figure out what you can buy local and organic with as little waste as possible.
SDSU saw the same problem in their on-campus dining programs, and decided to start the the “Campus Grown” initiative as a way to source fresh vegetables straight to their dining locations without any unnatural packaging or carbon emissions.
I was lucky enough to get a tour of SDSU’s garden’s to see what all the hype was about!
We started off at the aeroponic towers, where the gardeners grow lots of lettuces, leafy greens, and basil. They even get to work one-on-one with chefs who want to create particular dishes to grow exactly what they want. Chef Ed makes a scrumptious vegan pesto with the pounds of basil straight from the towers. (I feel like a personal gardener is every chef’s dream…right?!)
This system of aeroponic gardening is SO COOL because it uses only 10% of the water of traditional gardening! Living in San Diego, it’s fabulous to conserve any water that we can.
Near their towers, they have a bunch of raised beds where they sprout the seeds to go into the tower systems.
Those little sprouts have a pretty darn good view if you ask me!
Another priority of the Campus Grown Initiative is how they’re spreading the ~plant love~ around campus. The “Hello Walkway” Garden and herb garden are located in between classrooms, utilizing space that wouldn’t have been used otherwise.
Lead gardener, Trevor, designed the “Hello Walkway” garden after the fields he worked on in Oaxaca, Mexico, where he began his gardening practice. He says the garden replicates the ancient Oaxacan practice called “Milpa,” which involves growing three corn plants in the same hole and planting a bean plant amongst them.
The bean plant then grows UP the corn stalks and grows more efficiently! All while these two plants are growing vertically, squashes have been planted that take over the garden horizontally to maximize the space in the garden. This system of planting three mutualistic species in the same plot benefits not only the plants, but also allows the gardeners to produce a much higher output.
The Campus Grown Initiative also has 20 raised beds in the College Area Community Garden, but the gardeners seem more optimistic of the future of the “Hello Walkway” Garden and aeroponic towers in terms of how much actually gets produced. Trevor estimates that about 10% of the campus’ fresh vegetables are grown directly on campus, and he’s hopeful that the program continues to grow so they can provide more.
I think it’s great that the Campus Grown Initiative is providing fresh vegetables without packaging or unnecessary carbon emissions straight to campus, but I could’t help but ask myself “Well where’s the rest of the 90% of the produce coming from…?” Me being myself, I dug around a bit and was happy to find that the majority of the produce on SDSU’s campus is sourced from American Produce, a family-owned, local business in San Diego! This put a big ol’ smile on my face because supporting local industry is an A+ in my book. 🙂
Overall, the Campus Grown Initiative is really cool. It gives students an example of how urban farming can actually make a difference and probably gives a general incentive to eat more vegetables with the marketing campaign behind it. However, after looking at the raw numbers of the situation, my main takeaway is more about the satisfaction that SDSU is finding more responsible ways to source produce in general.
I’m so excited to see how Campus Grown will grow (no pun intended 😉 ) in the next few years!
If you’re a fellow veggie fan at SDSU, you might want to check out this post on All the VEGAN Food On-Campus at SDSU!