What was once an old, unused greenhouse connected to a dining hall is now teeming with life…and lots of cucumbers. Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ Venable Hall greenhouse project is mutually beneficial to the Environmental Studies department, the campus sustainability committee and the Aramark foodservice team.
From the foodservice perspective, the greenhouse caught Chef Tony Fiorentino’s eye several years ago. “I noticed we had this greenhouse, but it was sort of just a storage facility,” he says. A connection with Environmental Studies Professor Elena Traiser and the Campus Sustainability she heads led to the project finally getting off the ground (or into the ground, we should say!) “There was always interest in having some kind of a garden space, but regulations were always challenging, as well as thinking about ways to incorporate such small amounts of food.”
It’s true the greenhouse won’t produce anything close to a commercial farm’s volume, but what is grown will be put to good use on campus.
Fiorentino and the dining team now have their eye on the growing produce for many different many items, from soup, salsa and salad to spicy pickles and more. They plan to emphasize the locality with signage once school is back in session and will also stage an “MCLA” Pickle contest with Chef Tony creating a few different brines and students voting on their favorite.
Scott Tolmach GM of MCLA Dining, says Aramark’s support of campus sustainability made the project easier, a nice addition to the composting and other food waste-fighting measures already in place.
“It’s always evolving,” Tolmach says. “We’re always trying to come up with ways to improve sustainability.”
The sustainability interns will be cloning cucumbers grown this season to establish year-round propagation and harvesting. A lesson in patience taught by gardening hasn’t been lost on Fiorentino. “This project is another way to work on sustainability a little bit at a time,” he says. “Right now, it’s just watering and waiting.”