Farm-to-Table Program Rolls out on Georgia Southern’s Armstrong Campus Fall 2018

Staff Report From Savannah CEO

Monday, July 30th, 2018

Select dining options will be just-off-the-farm fresh on Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong Campus in Savannah beginning Fall 2018, thanks to a unique in-house partnership.

Employing aquaponics, a method of soilless farming that cultivates produce and fish simultaneously, the FORAM Sustainable Aquaponics Research Center and Eagle Dining Services have joined to introduce the University’s first farm-to-table program. Armstrong’s Galley Dining Commons and other campus venues, including the University’s food truck, will have the opportunity to feature dishes crafted with fresh vegetable offerings grown on campus.

“I believe this will be a powerful partnership that will have a positive impact on our students, campus, sustainability and both of our departments,” said Michael Morgan, director of Dining on the Armstrong Campus. “It is my long-term goal to have at least one of our Dining concepts’ to be fully supplied by this partnership as long as growing seasons and weather permits.”

In April, associate professor of chemistry and SARC Director Brent Feske, Ph.D., invited Morgan to take a tour of the aquaponics program and greenhouse, located in the field off of Arts Drive.

“This meeting led to talks of a partnership where we could commit staff to assist in the planting and harvesting of the produce grown in the Aquaponics Center, in lieu of produce bought off-campus to be used in our Dining facilities,” he said. “Ryan Bryzcki, assistant director of Dining on the Armstrong Campus, and I felt it important that we be the first to volunteer to assist in the planting to show the aquaponics program directors and our dining staff our commitment to this partnership.”

Last week, Heather Joesting, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology and SARC senior scientist, led Morgan and Bryzcki through a kick-off planting of Red Noodle Beans, deep-hued, nutrient-rich stringless Chinese beans popular in stir fry dishes or as steamed stand-alones, in the Aquaponics Lab.

They then transferred the seedlings to the greenhouse, which is home to four 800-gallon aquatic tanks brimming with Nile and Blue tilapia that grow from fingerlings to adult-sized fish. Within the modern ecosystem, evolved from an ancient Chinese aquaculture practice, plant and aquatic life thrive as bacteria introduced into the system converts fish waste into nutrients, which then fertilize the plants and filter the water.

“The process is really amazing,” noted Joesting. “It’s really nice to watch your food go from a seed to a sprout that then comes out to the grow beds into a vegetable that can then be consumed. I’ve had some of our produce and it is amazing.”

The hope is to harvest the Red Noodle Bean crop, along with many others, which may include arugula, basil, cabbage, cilantro, collards, kale, lettuces, mustard, sage, spinach and thyme, as well as various types of peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, for debut menus filled with pizza, pastas, salads and other dishes crafted with the just-picked items by mid-fall.

“Here we have the security and the pride to know that the produce came from this very campus and we’re supporting the campus in the process,” said Morgan.