By Christina Acevedo
Celebrating the opening of their recently-added aeroponic vertical gardens, The Anteatery held a “First Harvest” event on Oct. 22 in which they demonstrated how the gardens work and will be used.
According to UCI Hospitality & Dining marketing manager Tyson Monagle, “the grown produce will be implemented into students’ meals at The Anteatery, with any surpluses being directed to the FRESH Basic Needs Hub, located a quarter of a mile away, as part of a new program called ‘One-Mile Meals.’”
This new program will aim to supply produce to different dining areas within a mile of the gardens.
The overarching purpose of the gardens appears to be sustainable food production.
“In addition to growing our own local produce, we hope that the garden encourages students to be ‘plant-eaters,’” sustainability coordinator Lotus Thai said. “Not only does a plant-based diet use fewer resources, such as land and water, but it’s also healthier for our students.”
According to Thai, the gardens require less water than traditional agriculture (about 90 percent less) while also helping plants grow more quickly.
Currently, the produce is harvested in three-week intervals. Even though a variety of vegetables can be grown in the gardens, UCI intends to use them primarily for leafy greens as well as herbs.
The gardens also aren’t dependent upon fertilizers or pesticides, and their employment of a closed-loop system enables the recycling of nutrients and water.
“If needed, we will use basil, mint and coffee grounds to naturally repel pests,” Thai explained.
Situated in volcanic rock wool instead of soil, the plants are given a mineral nutrient solution three times each hour. This solution travels through the tower as a result of an automatic, mechanized pumping system.
At the “First Harvest” event, food samples using produce derived from the gardens were provided for taste testing. The event also hosted a cooking demonstration with Chef Angel showing students how to cook grits.
Additionally, tables were lined with plants as well as packets of herb seasoning containing parsley, thyme, and rosemary that attendees were able to take home.
One speaker noted that the space where the gardens are was carved out of what was previously landscaping, and its transformation can serve as an example of what individuals can do with space.
The gardens should help UCI supply students with fresh greens as well as enable them to view firsthand how produce is grown. In the future, additional garden towers may be built; but at the present moment, education relating to the gardens is a major focus.