The long-awaited Village Center Greenhouse’s construction has just been completed and planting is about to begin!
The greenhouse, which was part of phase two in the building of the Village Center Dining and Community Commons, comes just a year after the building opened to the public at the beginning of spring semester 2017. Located on the second floor, occupying nearly 3,000 south-facing square feet, this state-of-the-art facility houses approximately 140 aeroponic grow towers, each able to produce 44 plants. We will be growing a variety of lettuces and other greens to supply the Village Center salad bar with the freshest produce on campus.
The aeroponic system we have installed utilizes a soilless media—using water and nutrients to grow plants rather than dirt, allowing them to not only grow faster, but to produce greater yields on average. Plus, farming vertically versus horizontally allows for far better space usage.
Incorporated in the greenhouse structure is cutting-edge technology, which mechanizes some of the key features. Operations like maintaining optimal sunlight, shade, temperature and humidity levels will all be automated. This helps create the best growing conditions no matter the time of year, as well as supporting sustainability efforts. Sensors monitoring conditions prevent fans, lights and other equipment from running unnecessarily when natural conditions are sufficient.
In addition to the technological sustainability features, on-campus farming cuts out “food miles.” These crops will eliminate the need for the harvest, cleaning, packing and transportation from another farm. The produce will be grown, harvested, cleaned and served all within the Village Center, creating virtually zero food miles.
Farm manager, Alex Macmillan, was brought on board to help develop and then oversee all greenhouse operations. Alex has a degree in horticulture and a solid background in organic farming, vertical farming and greenhouse growing. He is passionate about the local food movement and is inspired by Campus Dining Services’ first foray into farming. He said of this venture, “Locally grown food just tastes better. I’m excited to get growing and hope that this new greenhouse inspires people to be informed about where their food comes from. It’s not grown by someone you’ve never met on some far away farm, grown with unknown farming practices. It’s me, right here and you can literally see how I’m growing your food. “
The crops will be planted in stages to ensure a continuous supply of fresh greens, with the first harvest expected sometime in February. And since the dining center has windows looking directly into the greenhouse, we will all be able to track their progress.
Make sure to stop by for lunch or dinner at the Village Center this semester to take a look at our brand new greenhouse and enjoy a farm to table experience right here on campus!