A cross between a mini spaceship and BB-8, the dining area behind O’Hacienda at Oglethorpe Dining Commons is now occupied by futuristic Tower Gardens erected from the ground, cultivating plants from little gem romaine to flat leaf parsley.
In the fall, the vertical aeroponic system was tested at Bolton, and the Tower Gardens were installed at O-House on Feb. 12, said Allison Brannen, the marketing and communications manager of Auxiliary Services.
The Tower Gardens, otherwise known as an aeroponic vertical gardening system, began as an initiative to promote sustainable practices on campus while providing locally grown produce for diners. Bryan Varin, executive director of Dining Services, said the projects grew out of students’ feedback, along with research conducted by Dining Services.
“We know from our conversations with students that they care tremendously about sustainability and locally grown produce,” Varin said in an email. “When Auxiliary and Dining Services leadership learned about the vertical aeroponic system, they saw a great opportunity to introduce the gardens at Oglethorpe to begin the process of growing food on campus.”
Eventually, Dining Services hopes to incorporate the plants into the recipes served at the dining halls. Varin said this is beneficial for everyone, as the department produces more locally grown items while expanding the educational experience for diners.
“Students are able to see produce being grown for their meals. This creates a connection to their food system and hopefully causes students to pause and consider where their food comes from.”
— Emma Courson, sustainability intern
Emma Courson, a senior horticulture major, is an urban agriculture intern with the Office of Sustainability. Through her position, Courson has worked with sustainability outreach, and she works closely with the Green Roof Garden on top of the Geography-Geology building. Courson said fostering an understanding between students and their food encourages them to be mindful of their food consumption, from both a health and economic standpoint.
“Students are able to see produce being grown for their meals,” Courson said. “This creates a connection to their food system and hopefully causes students to pause and consider where their food comes from.”
Varin said Dining Services aims to expand this initiative to other dining halls on campus after working with it at O-House. For now, students can revel in all of the Tower Gardens’ illuminated glory while waiting in line for a quesadilla. Although it’s no spaceship, the gardening system still offers a glimpse into the future for sustainable food-sourcing in dining halls.