Plate to plant
Snowflakes hung in the air outside the greenhouse where University of Maine students snipped lacey red, blue and verdant salad greens. The next day, the 20 pounds of the Elegance Greens Mix — Pac choi, red mustard, mizuna and leaf broccoli — was on the salad bar in the Memorial Union.
The harvest was the first this winter for the UMaine Greens Project, supervised by Eric Gallandt, associate professor of weed ecology and chair of the Department of Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences. UMaine’s project, which involves growing greens for the UMaine dining commons, builds on the university’s Sustainable Agriculture Program.
It also is in keeping with UMaine’s national reputation as a green campus. In 2011 and 2012, UMaine was one of 16 colleges nationwide named to Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll.
“I wanted to do something where sustainable agriculture students and students interested in local foods, and food enthusiasts could have a hands-on experience,” says Gallandt, noting that the inspiration to start a student greenhouse project came from visiting Michigan State University last year.
UMaine Greens is headquartered in a 26-foot by 96-foot greenhouse, purchased from a farmer in New Hampshire. It is sited beside UMaine’s new automated composting facility that has the potential to convert more than 1 ton of organic waste per day from campus dining facilities — from potato peels and lettuce leaves to meat scraps — into a rich soil amendment that will be used in the greenhouse and campus landscaping, and on university crop fields.
“This has been one of my favorite experiences at UMaine,” says Daniel Blanton, a senior majoring in sustainable agriculture from Stow, Mass., one of the 25 students involved in the UMaine Greens Project. “Hoop houses are the future in Maine for sustainable farmers. Winter production is exciting.”