In an effort to make sustainable food systems a reality at the University of Maine, UMaine Greens, a student-run greenhouse project, is working to provide dining services with some of its salad bar items for the Maine Marketplace: Memorial Union in the year to come.
The 26-by-96-foot hoop-style greenhouse located off Rangeley Road was completed in recent weeks and is now growing greens. Although it’s in its trial stages, the project’s goal is to provide greens to dining services and localize the university’s food system. Also being installed is a composting facility nearby.
The $12,000 project began when Professor Eric Gallandt, a specialist in Weed Ecology/Management and Sustainable Agriculture, wrote a unified fee proposal to the university. He was able to secure the money, which paid for the majority of the project: supplies, materials and a small amount of labor. Project participants donated the rest of the labor.
“It’s a really easy-to-understand way of how we can be involved in a more local food system,” Gallandt said.
Gallandt believes the UMaine Greens project is an example of a direct part of a food system, with the ground-to-table travel less than half a mile
“It’s a cool way to engage people on campus with where their food can come from and get people more excited about local food systems,” he said.
The money from the project will go into the maintenance of greenhouse operations and to pay a few core students to operate it.
Farlin Black, a senior sustainable agriculture student is already involved in the project. “I see so much energy and enthusiasm. I see people really psyched about local food systems. It’s something people are hungry for,” he said.
Black sees the project not only as a way to localize the university’s food systems but also to educate people who are “far removed from their food system. They see that [the greenhouse] and want to do something about [it].”
“It brings people together and that doesn’t happen around here that much, from what I can see,” Black said.
Auxiliary Services has met with UMaine Greens to begin negotiations to bring UMaine Greens to the salad bar at the Union. The greens produced before then will be used by volunteers with the project.
Daniel Sturrup, head of Auxiliary Services, suggested UMaine Greens supply the herbs for the Union, since what the greenhouse can produce is a “small footprint” of what dining services uses. Sturrup said the greenhouse’s production could provide the salad bar at the Union with an hour’s worth of lettuce.
“Anything that we can collaborate with other entities on campus, as well as to complete our own mission of local sustainable food,” Sturrup said of the goals of UMaine Greens.
Discussions of sustainable food systems are beginning to spring up more frequently in national debate. Black sees UMaine Greens as a step toward addressing this issue.
“The issue isn’t as partisan as it used to be,” he said. “I see more conservatives at local food markets. It’s a homeland security issue for them. To keep our economy as close as possible gives us a local security. It keeps the money where we are.”