Adding spice to going green
A kitchen garden cultivated on UCLA's residential Hill provided its latest harvest of fresh organic herbs for inclusion in the dining hall menus.
"The kitchen garden is one of several green programs on the Hill that have been a big hit.
By Alison Hewitt
Originally published in UCLA Today
Basil, sage, rosemary and thyme: What sounds like a Simon & Garfunkel cover band is actually a crop of savory herbs growing in an organic kitchen garden behind UCLA's Sunset Village residence hall. The stair-step potager was planted several months ago and is set to gain a new tier — and an additional herb — as early as this week.
The garden yields a yummy benefit for campus taste buds. Senior Food Services Manager Norberto Llamas gathered his third harvest last week, and the herbs have been incorporated into menus in the dining halls, from a pork roast with sage stuffing to fried rice with fresh mint.
Robert Gilbert, the sustainability coordinator for Housing and Hospitality Services, said the kitchen garden is one of several green programs on the Hill that have been a big hit.
"Student leaders helped plant the garden last fall, and Norberto Llamas checks out the garden and decides when it's ready for harvest," Gilbert said. "We have five herbs now – mint, thyme, sage, oregano and rosemary, and we're about to add basil.”
The Hill's successful organic kitchen garden is about to expand.
Helping with the plantings is Team Green, one of a slate of new student groups greening up the Hill. Gilbert recruited student facility coordinators from the residence halls to form Team Green, which meets weekly to learn about sustainability. These members, in turn, create satellite teams in their dorms, where they coordinate environmental programs, energy competitions, recycling races and other earth-friendly programming.
"It's like a green ambassador program," Gilbert said.
Another program making headway is composting. More than 60 tons of food waste are now sent from the Hill to off-campus composting facilities every month, Gilbert said. Virtually everything in the dining halls and cafes on the Hill is either compostable or recyclable, aside from a few tricky items like chip bags.
"We keep expanding the composting program," Gilbert said. "For single-use items, we've switched to compostable cups, plates, silverware and napkins. We're working toward an entirely compostable or recyclable stream. We've gotten rid of things like single-use ketchup and mustard packets in favor of bulk dispensers."
A year of tray-less dining in Hedrick Hall is another successful program — so much so that many students now eschew trays even in cafeterias where they are still available. Without trays to wash, the dining halls save water. Likewise, when students can juggle fewer plates at once, they tend to waste less food.
There's just one problem: Without trays, students also drop more dishes.
"We're doing a comparative analysis on the breakage in Hedrick Hall versus a hall with trays," Gilbert said. "We need to make sure the sustainability advantages outweigh the increase in broken china."
But that's the only snafu in a full plate of Hill-side sustainability programs. Some of them are even developing some nice overlap. For example, while most of the Hill's compost is handled off-site, two new compost bins on the Hill will help fertilize the organic kitchen garden, making it still more sustainable.
"We just completed our third and largest harvest in the garden," Gilbert said proudly. "The mint fried rice was really delicious."
Published: Tuesday, May 04, 2010