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Ohio State campus cafe fueled by nearby organic garden

Hannah Brokenshire / Lantern reporter

At one spot on campus, food doesn’t travel far from the ground to your plate.
In the back of the Wexner Center for the Arts near College Road, an organic garden is being tended, and once it’s crop is yielded, it travels no farther than the Heirloom Café in the Wexner Center.
The Wexner Center Chef’s garden is a collaboration between Ohio State’s Ecological Engineering Society, the Wexner Center for the Arts and chef John Skaggs and aims to bring a food-to-fork concept to campus.
“There has been a big push for local food,” said Angelica Huerta, a member of EES. “We’re losing that touch with our environment and our food system.”
Skaggs, co-owner of Heirloom Café , said the garden is a way for Ohio State to reconnect with its agricultural roots.
“It’s a tie-in to the community on this campus, (OSU) started as an ag (agricultural) school and we’re reminded of that with the garden,” Skaggs said. “That connection of a farm-to-fork or food-to-fork movement is about being part of the process all the way.”
It might go unnoticed by some, but Skaggs said his business has felt the garden’s impact.
“I think the population is willing to participate in eating healthy if we provide them with fresher food that we have available to us,” Skaggs said.
EES member Caitlin Eger said the group likes to think of the project as a partnership with Heirloom.
“We wanted to make this project as great as possible for John. We like to think of him as sort of our client,” Eger said.
The garden’s location was also a key factor in combining visual arts with culinary arts.
“We approached (the garden) from two angles: be beautiful, artistic with landscape architecture and also think of John as our primary client, which involved thinking about the culinary arts,” Eger said.
The garden operates on a closed system, meaning the intent is to limit its footprint beyond OSU. Skaggs said about 50 percent of Heirloom’s waste is vegetable that is recycled as compost and then used to fertilize the crops.
The idea of a sustainable garden stems from EES involvement in a local summer 2011 permaculture workshop. Huerta defines permaculture as the organization of environmental resources for human benefit with minimal environmental impact.
Project funding came from a Coca-Cola Student Sustainability Grant, available through OSU’s partnership with the brand. The grant website said money is awarded to projects that directly contribute to reducing environmental impacts on campus, such as resource conservation and greenhouse gas reduction.
In November 2011, EES was awarded $15,000 to begin construction on the garden, and a year later it includes food production and composting capabilities.
During the last growing section the garden was home to radishes, garlic, turnips, and potatoes. In preparation for the Winter, the club plans to plant clover or other ground-covering crops.
Shadrie Sahaag, a third-year in biology, has not eaten at Heirloom but has been there with a friend.
Sahaag said her friend enjoyed her meal, and agreed that she would rather eat at a restaurant where she knew where their food was coming from.
“Honestly, I think (the farm-to-fork concept is) a good idea,” Sahaag said, though she had not noticed the garden on campus.
Huerta said composting a garden is a labor-intensive process and it allows students to get involved. Student volunteers had the opportunity through the First Year Experience program to work in the garden, and Huerta is hopeful the future will bring cooking classes, garden tours and workshops.

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