Tennessee Tech University Dining has established a partnership with the school’s Agriculture Department to grow organic vegetables on campus. The arrangement has produced a fully sustainable farm on the campus and its first products were served in dining halls in September. Today, the organic produce is featured in all campus dining venues.
The arrangement started back in April when the Agriculture Dept. was awarded a grant to research organic composting rates. Now, campus dining services provider Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services collects the food waste, which is taken to the Tennessee Tech Farm for composting. The compost is then used for planting at the farm. The researchers test optimum compost rate and application timing, and how the two affect soil fertility.
Currently, peppers and tomatoes are being grown. There are plans to grow other vegetables, including a special TTU blend of lettuce. Chartwells will purchase the organic produce grown in the research project and use it in their recipes on campus.
“It is exciting to be able to use food waste from the students’ plates to help grow fresh organic produce through composting,” says Chartwells Resident District Manager Sam Holm. “Everyone is concerned about how much waste is being generated and this is an outstanding way to use discarded food. So far, the reaction from our customers to producing our own organic produce is overwhelming. Our customers are very appreciative that we are able to reuse our food waste for something good. We cannot wait until our own blend of TTU lettuce hits our salad bar next year!”
During the week, Executive Chef Joe Dostilio regularly visits the TTU Farm to pick out peppers and tomatoes himself. “I find it refreshing to know exactly where my produce is coming from,” he says. “I love the fact that I can go out to the farm, pick my produce and take it back to the kitchen to produce a great recipe for the students!”