Cultivating a Raised Garden

by   |   kallweil@bju.edu   |  

Recently, BJU Dining Services staff began growing their own produce in raised garden beds in a walled courtyard behind the dining common. The beds include several varieties of plants—including tomatoes, several colors of bell peppers, green onions, parsley, sage, Thai basil and stevia—with plans to add more.

Providing Local Produce

According to Brent Wustman, the general manager of BJU Dining Services, the staff strives to provide local produce for BJU diners. They partner with a couple of local farms already, including Greenbriar Farms and Green Valley Farms. But they decided to build raised garden beds to provide produce that will never see the inside of a truck. As Ralph Macrina, also from BJU Dining Services, said, this produce “won’t get more local.”

Saving Money

Raising their own produce also has the potential to save the University money. Instead of throwing away budding onions, the staff can now plant them in their garden beds. This “closes the loop,” according to Wustman, and saves on waste. And while the raised garden can only produce a small amount of food compared to the size of the BJU student body, Dining Services will still be able to buy less produce from outside sources.

Overcoming Obstacles

One of the obstacles the Dining Services staff had to overcome was the conditions that had to be met. In order to serve the produce in the dining common, the location of the beds must have controlled access. The courtyard behind the dining common provides the controlled access needed while also providing the right amounts of sun and shade for the plants. There’s even water access, making this the perfect location for the garden beds.

Only certain woods can be used, as well. The chemicals used to treat many woods can seep into the soil and therefore into the vegetables. For the raised garden beds, Wustman says they chose cedar wood. But they are also growing herbs in shipping pallets.

Another obstacle the staff face is the scale of production. Right now, the beds include only a few plants. The raised garden is not large enough to feed the entire student body. If students want BJU’s own produce for their salads, they’ll have to be first in the line. The produce will be clearly labeled (BJU branded, of course) as coming from BJU’s garden.

Taking the Next Step

This is just the first step. Wustman and Macrina mentioned plans for building greenhouse roofs over the beds to grow vegetables longer during the year as well as plans for adding more beds to produce more food.

Changes will be subtle at first. Seasonal ingredients will be highlighted in select dishes, and some fresh produce will be included on the salad bar. But over time, the dining common staff hope to include more and more of their own produce in meals.

Reflecting History

Providing their own food is not a new concept for BJU. From 1975 to 2000, BJU owned a farm in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, that provided meat and milk for the BJU community. In addition to providing the University with its own steak, roast beef, chocolate milk and ice cream, the farm provided an opportunity for students to learn about running a farm. Pre-veterinary and agroeconomics students would have classes at the farm and even complete a practicum that began at 5:00 a.m.

BJU also owned and operated a crop farm when the University was located in Florida. The crops from this farm fed the student body. Students could work the farm as a campus job then eat the fruit of their labor in the dining common.

Studying Agriculture at BJU

While BJU doesn’t have an agricultural program currently, students wanting to go into agriculture can still attend BJU. Dr. Vincenzo Antignani of the Division of Natural Sciences faculty says, “I would definitely go for a zoo/wildlife [biology] program and add as electives: Plant Physiology, Introduction to Biotechnology (a new course that will be launched next spring), and an undergraduate research course with a focus on an agronomically relevant topic.”

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Krystal Allweil

Krystal Allweil is the content marketing specialist for BJU’s Marketing Communications and is the managing editor for BJUtoday.