Surrounded by four glass walls and a ceiling of purple lights, new leaves of tomato plants, peppers and a sea of herbs have begun to sprout in the Froiland Science Complex.
Though normally commanded by students and professors in the biology department, biology professor Steven Matzner loaned one of three bays in the campus greenhouse to Sodexo to jumpstart the growth of vegetables and flowers for a new, larger garden space on campus.
Over the past year, Sodexo has invested in sustainability efforts, adding an urban cultivator and two aquaponic tower gardens to the Ordal Dining Hall. In addition, they have grown vegetables in two separate gardens—one located inside the terrace outside The Huddle and another behind the Global Education House.
Last year, the two gardens produced nasturtium flowers, three varieties of beans and a total of 452 pounds of tomatoes for the dining hall.
“Our students and our future students are becoming more savvy customers,” said Kam Hedeen, director of sustainability for Sodexo. “What [students]
have been exposed to—the concepts they see online through Pinterest, social media [and] local restaurants—everyone is upping their game, and we have to up our game and inspire them.”
The greenhouse project started in late November when Matzner contacted Hedeen. Matzner is currently on sabbatical and a portion of the greenhouse was sitting empty.
“The greenhouses are always going,” said Matzner. “If we’ve got the extra space, it’s nice to be able to let [Hedeen] grow some greens for the Commons. I think it’s really helpful for him to get started on his summer plants and get them going all that much faster.”
Currently, three-fourths of the second bay is filled with budding plants, including heirloom tomatoes, peppers, herbs, watercress, broccoli, basil, parsley and much more.
“My vision [is] really to help bring food from farm to table,” said Damian Lewis, general manager of Augustana Dining. “For students to get fresher products, to know where their food comes from, to be able to watch it grow [and] to also get some education from the whole process.”
While all of the current sustainability efforts have been funded by Sodexo, the start-up costs for the new garden space will be partially funded by a $375,000 grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, which the university received in August of 2017. The maintenance and long-term costs will be funded primarily by Sodexo.
While the garden space has not yet been authorized by the campus landscape and grounds committee, Lewis and Heneen will have a final decision within the upcoming weeks and will disclose the location upon approval.
The current gardens are maintained by Sodexo, but Hedeen and Lewis hope that student organizations will pitch in during the planting, maintenance and harvest efforts, beginning with a weather-dependent Earth Day ceremony and fence-building event.
“We want to be a leader of sustainability for Augustana,” Lewis said. “There are students that are looking for universities based on those characteristics and what they feel is valuable to them. One of the things we can all do is take care of our environment and be more sustainable.”
In addition to eating locally-sourced foods, Matzer said that students on campus should turn off lights, monitor water usage and keep up-to-date on science-related topics.
“Be informed about what’s going on in the world around you and how that impacts sustainability,” Matzner said. “Don’t bury your head in the sand just because you are in college.”
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