Hydroponic herbs move to Saga

Parsley, sage, oregano, basil, chives: Students eat these herbs on an almost daily basis in a variety of Saga dishes, and since this past fall, many of those herbs have been supplied to Bon Appetit by Wheaton’s own A Rocha club.
Over the past week, students may have noticed the addition of two tower-like planters to the right of the entrance walking into Saga. A Rocha has been using these hydroponic plant systems to supply some of Bon Appetit’s herb needs since the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. After residing in the lower level of the Meyer Science Center under the care of A Rocha members since last fall, the plants will now dwell in Anderson Commons (Saga), where students can see the source of some of the food they eat every day.
“[The herbs] are a big part of what we do,” said A Rocha member Thea Boatwright, the unofficial “herb girl” for the dining hall. As far as moving the plants to Saga goes, Boatwright commented that, “hopefully it’ll garner interest and have campus realize that Saga actually grows some of its herbs on campus.”
The project began over a year ago, when Bon Appetit partnered with the college and A Rocha students to purchase the towers. Last year was spent “testing methods,” Boatwright said; after mixed results in this experimental phase, A Rocha now regularly donates their herb harvests to Saga.
Raul Delgado, general manager of Wheaton’s food services, sees the hydroponics towers as a continued effort to inform students about what they eat.
“Any opportunity that Bon Appetit has where we can marry what we do with food to the goal of the school, which is education, we think that’s always a win-win combination,” Delgado said.  “We think that’s part of our responsibility, too — not only to serve the students but also to educate them about food.”
The hydroponics systems involve growing plants in a nutrient solution, rather than soil. According to Boatwright, the benefits of this are threefold: the plants are highly water efficient, do not require pesticides and take up little space. And in addition to being environmentally friendly, the plants also extends Bon Appetit’s commitment to using locally sourced food. Twenty percent of Bon Appetit’s purchasing is from local sources, and the cafe regularly spotlights local ingredients and farms; this week is even “Farmworker Awareness Week” in Anderson Commons.
“The goal was always to bring the towers to the dining hall [to] share with all the students this partnership that’s already been taking place behind the scenes … and let them know the commitment that the school and Bon Appetit is making to local,” Delgado said. “Even though [the herb towers] are a small part of it, it just adds to all the other stuff we do.”
 
Besides making the plants more visible to students, keeping the plants in Saga has practical benefits in making the partnership between executive chef John Krickl and A Rocha even easier. Delgado hopes to see the herb project grow into an even more significant part of Bon Appetit’s daily operations with the plants in their new home.
“I’m excited to see what the chefs in partnership with the school and the students come up with,” Delgado said. “The thing about fresh herbs is that they have so much flavor that you don’t have to use a lot of them. … It could quite possibly be that there are a couple herbs we don’t even have to buy anymore, that we could just solely be able to use from here.”
Boatwright has more immediate hopes for the herb towers:
“We’re currently growing … some marjoram, which is really good on fish,” Boatwright said. “Maybe the whitefish will be better thanks to some marjoram. We’ll see, the jury’s still out.”

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