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Eating really local: new student project aims to grow greens for Bon Appétit salad bars

Rachel Alexander

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Next time you eat a salad in the dining hall, some of the greens might come from less than a block away. That’s the hope of first-years Natalie Jamerson and Zoe Pehrson, who are starting Student Agriculture at Whitman, a project to grow microgreens in the greenhouse on the roof of the science building.

“The goal of this project is to offer local produce to Bon Appétit,” said Jamerson.

Microgreens are greens harvested after a plant has sprouted, but before it is large enough to become a baby green. Whitman’s greens will grow for two weeks before they are harvested and delivered to Bon Appétit, where they will be served as part of the salad bar.

“It’s very flavorful and very healthy,” said Pehrson.

The project is part of a larger initiative by Campus Greens to have Whitman produce more of its own food. Junior Nat Clarke, president of Campus Greens said that he began growing some small edible plants around the amphitheater to show that it was possible to grow food on campus.

“The microgreens project is the next step in the progression towards a larger farm, and it’s incredibly important to campus,” he said.

Several Campus Green members were involved in getting the project started and in meeting with Bon Appétit to work out the details of the sale. Jamerson and Pehrson will be overseeing the project this semester as official interns, for which they will receive environmental studies internship credit.

The project will be funded by the Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund. The Fund was created last spring to finance ideas that make Whitman more environmentally friendly and pay back over a five-year period. Previously, loan applications have been for larger ventures, such as purchasing a solvent recycler for the chemistry department.

“I’m really impressed with [the microgreens] project,” said senior Lisa Curtis, the Whitman sustainability coordinator. “Not only will the money pay back, but they should actually make money.”

Jameson and Pehrson expect to deliver 12 trays of greens per week to Bon Appétit. According to Roger Edens, the Bon Appétit manager, the greens will be purchased for $18 per tray, which is the same price currently paid to the off-campus supplier.

Edens says he is excited about the project, because it shows that it is possible for a college campus to produce some of its own food.

“It raises awareness, and it’s a stronger message when it’s coming from the students,” he said.

Bon Appétit has produced a handbook called “Student Gardens and Food Service,” which has directions for starting similar projects on campuses. Edens said that the company encourages student efforts to make campus food more sustainable.

“[The micorgreens project is] something easy to start up that will have some immediate returns,” said Edens.

The quick payback is one of the reasons microgreens were chosen for this project.

“We’re starting with microgreens because it’s the most financially feasible project for us,” said Jamerson.

Clarke notes that this is a unique feature of growing microgreens, compared to many other student sustainability initiatives on campus.

“Very few student efforts are self-funded in any capacity,” he said. “The project uses a business-oriented, scientific approach.”

Jamerson and Pehrson hope more students will get involved, both by helping with the microgreens project and by continuing similar efforts at Whitman.

“We really want as much student involvement and awareness as possible,” she said. “That’s the way it’s going to be sustained.”

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Whitman news since 1896
Eating really local: new student project aims to grow greens for Bon Appétit salad bars