CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Sustainability -- including making healthy eating choices available to students -- is a priority at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Viewers of Chicago television station WCIU got a “taste” of SIU’s efforts during the May 17 “You & Me This Morning” program. Host Jeanne Sparrow interviewed SIU’s William “Chef Bill” Connors in the studio about the University’s Farm to Fork initiative.
Connors, a chef with University Housing since 1995, prepared a sustainably raised salad during the segment, showcasing the type of homegrown food served in the campus dining halls. On the air, Sparrow also noted that several Salukis work at the station.
“We appreciate WCIU’s interest, because this helps us keep our many friends and alumni in Chicago up to date about the important initiatives on campus,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said. “Sustainability and healthy lifestyles are priorities at SIU, and our many efforts also serve as educational tools for our students and our communities.”
The Farm to Fork initiative dates to 2009, when a group of students approached campus officials with a proposal to create a sustainably grown garden project to produce food for campus dining halls. Soon, a small garden area grew to four 4-foot by 20-foot plots along Pleasant Hill Road near the vermicomposting center. Connors worked with the students and the project blossomed.
The collaborative effort now covers about two acres and involves faculty, staff and undergraduate and graduate students from multiple units, including: University Housing, the College of Agricultural Science’s Department of Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems and Department of Animal Science, Food and Nutrition; and the College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Geography and Environmental Resources. About 100 volunteers from the campus Registered Student Organization LOGIC (Local Organic Garden Initiative of Carbondale) donate their time working in the gardens.
“The goal is to have this as the showcase for sustainable farming,” Connors said.
The garden includes carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, squash, garlic, melons, salad greens and virtually anything else that will grow well in Southern Illinois soil. Nearly 10 percent of the vegetables served to students in University Housing are sustainably grown in the garden, according to Connors. In addition, University Housing purchases and serves additional locally grown vegetables for students. Serving veggies grown on campus and locally helps assure that students are eating healthy and the produce is a big hit in the dining halls, too, he said.
LOGIC also sells some of the produce periodically on campus, helping raise money to keep the garden going.
The project not only enhances sustainability on campus, it serves as an important research tool. There are a variety of ongoing research projects studying various crop techniques in the area now collectively known as the Center for Sustainable Farming. Connors said the Sustainability Council and University Housing have teamed to fund four graduate positions for the project and plans call for expanding research. The primary focus will be on graduate level research but undergraduate research is valued as well, he notes.
In addition, there is an educational component involved. Dania Laubach, a master’s student in geography and environmental resources and LOGIC vice president, recently received a $2,757 Sustainability Council grant for a project to facilitate environmental education for visitors and volunteers at LOGIC. The grant is to fund the addition of plant labels and other information at the garden site to help those who visit understand the process of garden planning, crop rotation and other site features. They will also be adding a picnic table and planters the Student Center Craft Shop is making from recycled materials, giving those who visit a place to relax and enjoy the gardens.