Sprawling vines from pumpkin and watermelon plants overtake the concrete retaining wall behind Van Houten Dining Hall. Small wooden box planters filled with chives, basil and parsley are nestled between rapidly sprouting corn stalks and wiry zucchini blossoms.
And this is just the second year of the garden.
Over the past two years, Chartwells Dining Services and Edinboro University have expanded an on-campus garden that feeds directly into the dining menu for farm-to-table dishes. In 2018, Justin Stull, executive chef of Chartwells at Edinboro, and his staff dedicated a small tract of land to plant your garden variety of vegetables – tomatoes, zucchini and corn.
This year, with the help of Edinboro University students and employees, the garden has expanded to a 60-by-40 foot plot, directly behind Van Houten Dining Hall.
Edinboro students Shayma Musa and Leah Pilewski are working this summer to plant, weed and water the garden and collect the vegetables to be used in the dining hall during New Student Orientation.
Pilewski, a Pre-Veterinarian student at Edinboro, stands in awe at the growth and how the garden options directly benefit all types of eaters on campus.
“It’s amazing because we started with the tiniest of seeds,” she said.
Van Houten gardens includes seasonal vegetable options such as three varieties of tomatoes, white onions, carrots, honey corn, Armenian cucumber, snowball cauliflower, Detroit white beets, yellow beets, pumpkins, watermelons, beans, zucchini, squash, Miranda broccoli, yellow banana peppers and Athena melons and herbs such as thyme, chives, tarragon, dill and basil.
“We did really well with last year’s garden. People were stopping by just to look at it,” said Stull, who came to Edinboro in 2005 as sous chef. “We just had to go bigger and offer a greater variety. Everything that we feed students during the semester, we try to grow here.”
Stull also credits his sous chef Luljeta Odell and production manager Chris Adams for helping to oversee the garden project and vegetable collection.
As students, the impetus for joining an expanded agricultural effort through campus gardening stemmed from Musa’s observation of food waste in the community. She and Pilewski decided to tackle a campus composting project to address waste in Van Houten Dining Hall.
From there, the duo joined Stull and his kitchen staff to create a full circle of sustainability through connecting the compost efforts with gardening vegetables and herbs.
“Since we’re interested in starting a composting program, it’s important to see the gardening side of it as well,” said Musa, a Health Sciences major with a concentration in pre-physician’s assistant. “It’s very important to understand where your food is coming from.”
Musa’s experience coincides with national trends of food consumption and waste in the past decade. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, nearly 30-40 percent of food supply in the U.S. is wasted – approximately 133 billion pounds annually.
With new composting and gardening efforts, Musa and Pilewski hope to highlight a need for sustainable food on campus and a method eliminating waste in dining halls.
Despite the small tract of land tucked behind Van Houten Dining Hall that is dedicated to growing herbs and vegetables, Musa is already inspired by the amount of growth – both in pumpkins and zucchini and an attitude of sustainable agriculture.
“I enjoy coming out here every morning and seeing the garden just grow and grow,” Musa said. “I come out here in the morning just to take pictures and say, ‘Wow.’”
For more information about dining options on campus and sustainability efforts through Chartwells and Edinboro University, visit www.dineoncampus.com/edinboro.