September 28, 2009
College student gardeners may be putting their green thumbs to use as produce suppliers for their schools.
Bon Appetit Management, an operator of college and university dining facilities, has drafted a guidebook to help students who maintain campus gardens to become one of their schools' suppliers. The book aims to help student gardeners deal with the needs of on-campus feeding facilities to make the whole school greener, according to Bon Appetit.
Another benefit of the effort could be planting the seeds of interest among students in pursuing a farming career. "Colleges are the ideal place to begin a new agricultural revolution," the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company said in its announcement of the guidebook. It noted that only 1 percent of the U.S. population is now involved in farming, compared with 40 percent a century ago.
Bon Appetit's guidebook, Student Gardens and Food Service, suggests that the students charge a fair and appropriate price for their output. It counsels them on how to set up a payment schedule.
Also covered in the 31-page guidebook are such topics as how the produce should be cleaned and safely handled; how the students should determine what to grow; how to work with foodservice directors on seasonal menus; what insurance the garden should carry; and how the relationship should be marketed.
The book also encourages student farmers to take the additional step of collaborating with their foodservice departments on a composting initiative. Onsite kitchens would provide the food scraps and other raw materials for the programs, an effort that could reduce their carting fees. The organic material would be composted by the student gardeners, who could then use it to enrich the soil of their plots.
"This is another way in which the proximity of the cafe and garden will be beneficial for both parties," explains the guidebook. Bon Appetit refers to its facilities as cafes rather than dining rooms or cafeterias.
A number of colleges and universities now feature student-run gardens. Kendall College, in the heart of Chicago, annually produces some 2,500 pounds of produce for the culinary school's dining room, which is open to the public. The University of Connecticut in Storrs has beehives in addition to its vegetable beds. Four hundred of Bon Appetit's cafes already feature campus-grown vegetables, fruits and berries.
Typically the student gardens are unable to supply all the produce needed for on-campus feeding operations, especially in northern climes with a limited growing season. But the use of fresh, locally sourced produce is presented as a complement to other campus-based green efforts, like reducing energy or water consumption.
Bon Appetit is offering Student Gardens and Food Service to all student gardeners, not just the ones attending schools where it runs the foodservices. "Doing the real work of growing and distributing food gives students direct and meaningful experience in creating a more sustainable food supply," says Maisie Greenawalt, vice president of the company.
The money you save on operating costs (through energy efficiency) adds to what you get to keep, so saving 20% on energy operating costs can increase your profit as much as 33%.
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