Campus-grown dining promotes sustainability at SDSU
Walking through Hello Walkway Garden is a tranquil experience, featuring an array of trees and succulents pleasing to the eye, with a soothing water fountain as background noise for the midst of a study session. One characteristic that may be overlooked in this space is the garden and the formulated system it works with in order to make San Diego State a more sustainable and health-savvy campus. SDSU has been keeping pace with the recent trends regarding healthy eating habits and farm-to-table concepts by implementing the Campus Grown program. The program works to grow fresh produce on campus to use in dining facilities. Starting roughly five years ago when Paul Melchior, the director of dining services, began renting plots from the College Area Community Garden to harvest vegetables. Every year since, members of the Aztec Shops and sustainability program have worked to expand on this project— now cultivating two gardens at the Faculty Staff Club and the Hello Walkway area. Besides providing organic, locally sourced options to students this also helps in reducing carbon footprint. After attending a conference held at UCSD, Melchior was inspired to build an aeroponic system which grows produce in structures that do not require much land or water. He said that because SDSU does not have a ton of space to work with, the aeroponic system seemed like the perfect solution to him. “The aeroponic towers, the really cool thing about them is if you count the amount of water it takes to grow something in that tower, and if you grew that same thing in dirt, you’ll see that the tower uses five percent of how much the dirt uses,” said Melchior. This advanced form of agriculture technology cuts down on water and energy while still expanding sources. Melchior explained that the aeroponic towers can grow crops up to three times faster, while using 95 percent less water and 90 percent less land. This system is also being adopted by other campuses and farms across the nation. “Urban agriculture is a vastly growing thing,” said Trevor Toia, a sustainability major, “we were one of the first universities to adopt this campus-grown idea, right after UCSD, now other campuses have been seeing what’s happening and simulating it at their school as well.” Toia is working on similar projects at several other campuses throughout California. He explained how campus gardening can be great for educating the public about the benefits of local farming, specifically knowing how and where the food consumed is being grown. “I track the ingredients in our gardens from when they start as a seedling, to when I plant them, to when I harvest them, and when they are ready to be transferred into the different locations on campus,” said Toia. According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, this growing trend may help to lay the groundwork for a future where a network of farmers’ markets, food co-operatives, and community gardens will greatly reduce average food miles and help the nation transition to a more sustainable food system. Travis Freeman, a former student and member of GreenLove brought awareness to the fact that food is cultivated, processed, and transported in ways that can be harmful to the environment and the consumers’ health. “Farm-to-table eating helps reduce carbon footprint as it does not require any packaging, transportation, and does not contribute to food waste,” said Freeman. According to Aztec Shops SDSU Dining, the program is committed to sustainable, locally sourced gardening. It aims to give students the highest quality foods while reducing carbon footprint by using progressive urban agriculture systems. From leafy greens to seasonal squash and fresh herbs, SDSU’s gardens provide roughly 10 percent of the food coming in and out of these restaurants. Students can enjoy campus-grown produce at several different dining areas such as: The Garden at Cuicacalli, UTK, Faculty-Staff Club, and Salad Bistro. According to the SDSU Campus Grown program, their mission is to pave the way to a sustainable campus and to continuously seek ways to lower energy and environmental impacts.