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Room to grow: university greenhouse enhances sustainability effort in dining services

For a couple of years, Elena Traister, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Environmental Studies professor who heads the school’s Campus Sustainability Committee, and others talked of taking an out-of-service space on campus with windows for walls and ceiling and making it a greenhouse.

The greenhouse sits outside Venable Gym, directly over the kitchens and dining services below, so, Tony Fiorentino, MCLA's executive chef, calls it “Rooftop to Tabletop.” This spring, the first crop of seedlings was planted.

Facilities workers cleared out the space, installed an entrance through one of the windows because it isn’t accessible through the building, and built raised plant beds. Then, with the help of campus sustainability intern Anayra Colon, MCLA Dining General Manager Scott Tolmach and, in consultation with MCLA executive chef Tony Fiorentino, they retrieved seeds from the school’s seed library in early March and planted Brussels sprouts, lavender, Roma tomatoes, heirloom cherry tomatoes, parsley, sage, arugula, dill, basil, and cucumbers.

“We wanted eventually to grow produce on campus and utilize them in the dining hall,” Fiorentino said. “We would highlight them in certain dishes.” The greenhouse sits outside Venable Gym, directly over the kitchens and dining services below, so, college executive chef Tony Fiorentino calls it “Rooftop to Tabletop.”

Already, the college sources much of its food from local producers through its food vendor, Sid Wainer & Son of New Bedford. And Fiorentino noted that with health codes closely governing food production for use in schools, it would be prohibitive logistically to enlist enough students or volunteers to grow enough produce to feed the entire campus all year long, but it does help to highlight the college’s efforts at sustainability.

MCLA Dining staff already are composting, weighing scraps to keep track of and reduce food waste, and purchasing fair trade coffee, cage-free eggs, and other foods with a lower environmental impact.

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