The vibrant colors of fresh lettuces, herbs and microgreens and the soothing sounds of running, bubbling water make the garden studio in OSU Institute of Technology’s School of Culinary Arts building quite a relaxing spot amid the sometimes frenetic pace of the kitchens.
“It’s my favorite place. If I’m in between classes, I’m usually here,” said culinary student Chellsi Payne.
The garden studio houses the culinary school’s aquaponics and hydroponics gardens.
The aquaponics beds utilize a water tank that is also home to 14 fish— tilapia to be exact. The water, enriched by the fish excretions, are pumped through grow beds where those nutrients help the plants. Then that water is pumped back into the tank, and the cycle begins again.
The hydroponics portion of the studio utilizes vertical drip beds where nutrients have been added to water; the water then drips down vertical beds mounted to the wall. Any residual water is collected at the bottom and recycled through the system again.
“It’s been a test project for about three years, but we decided to go full scale six months ago,” said Gene Leiterman, dean of the School of the Culinary Arts. “This came about because we wanted to give students new experiences. It gives them an opportunity to find out where food comes from.”
Leiterman and Julie Byers, who teaches the aquaponics class, said the garden studio and classes sprang from the growing movements of sustainability and farm-to-table.
“People just want to know where their food comes from. They want to know how it was raised or how it was grown,” Byers said.
The garden studio opened in September 2017, and already, the students and the school are benefitting from the studio’s bounty. Growing some of their own produce in-house means spending less on outside vendors, and it’s fresher too, Byers said.
And because these plants are growing in a temperature-controlled environment with UV grow lights and constant access to water, students can harvest them year round.
“It’s been very positive for the school. It’s innovative. The students like being able to come in and pick up greens for their dishes,” she said, and it’s become a highlight for people touring the culinary school. “We had 30 to 40 people come through for a tour the other day, and they just loved it. It’s so green and vibrant, they’re drawn to it.”
Payne, who is a first year student in the culinary program, said she’s already learned a lot from being in the class and working in the studio.
“As a student, I feel it’s beneficial that I’ve had this class. It gives me a better understanding of each lettuce and a better understanding of my food,” she said. “And I think they taste better than what you get in the store.”