As tomatoes and other produce are harvested from the University Farms' new gardens in Hunting Valley, the yield provides fresh products for Bon Appétit’s café in Tomlinson Hall.
The Farm Food Program, a pilot project now in its 15th week, is sending as many as 11 products weekly to the main campus, according to University Farm Director Ana Locci.
The farm has become one of the locally grown food sources for Bon Appétit, which now purchases about 27 percent of its food products from vendors within 150 miles of campus, according to Bon Appétit Director of Operations David Apthorpe.
From the basil in the homemade pizzas to the leafy greens in salads, the farm contributes to green eating on campus.
This farm’s initiative originated with talks by the farm administration, Bon Appétit and SAGES Fellows, like Mary Holmes who have taught food classes for the undergraduate seminar program and have been active in the establishment of local farmers’ markets.
The program has started as a pilot with less than an acre of land to give the farm crew an opportunity to learn how to grow food free of chemicals and in large quantities from starting in the greenhouse before the snow melts to transplanting young plants in the garden as spring weather warms the ground.
Christopher Bond, who was hired in 2009 and became the first farm horticulturalist in more than 30 years, oversees the garden project.
Assisting him this summer are students from the university: Aaron Hickman, Jillian Johnston and Natalia Cabrera. Michael Lalich, a 2010 alumnus, is working in the Food Program as a part-time AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) through the Corporation for National and Community Service. Faculty members from biology, SAGES and other disciplines are interested in the development of the Food Program and potential research projects and learning experiences that can relate to the initiative.
With the start-up of the garden, Bond said, “We are focusing on the quality of the product instead of quantity.”
The farm team agrees it is a learning experience of timing and planting. Then, like all farmers, Mother Nature is the unknown factor. As a wildlife sanctuary, the farm is home to deer, ground hogs, rabbits and other wildlife, which can view the garden as a potential food source and requires additional fencing to protect the plants.
The combination of the right amount of rain each week with the warm weather is bringing in a good yield of tomatoes, Bond said.
At the moment the Food Program is receiving support from a variety of sources: The Flora Stone Mather Fund, the farm budget and Bon Appétit.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also provided seeds for a research project to grow Salvia hispanica to test it as a cover crop and pollinator resource known as Chia (a mint-like plant that is used in the popular “Chia Pets”).
For more information about the Food Program, visit the University Farm website.
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