In fact, UW Oshkosh is bringing the “farm” indoors — right inside Blackhawk Commons, the main campus dining hall.
UW Oshkosh will soon serve products from its Tower Gardens — which are vertical gardening systems that make it easy to grow fruits and vegetables inside Blackhawk. Tower Gardens are standing habitats for plants that use a plant-cultivation technique called aeroponics to efficiently grow healthy food at a faster rate than a conventional garden. The tower works by pumping Tower Tonic, a liquid plant nutrient mixture, up the tower and evenly cascading it over the plant roots. This method of dispersal provides the plants with ample oxygen, nutrients and water, causing rapid growth.
Marty Strand, assistant director of dining services at UW Oshkosh, said he got the idea of bringing the vertical gardens to campus from a national restaurant show he attended two years ago.
“We thought this would be an excellent alternative to campus gardens, as they can be in a controlled environment that could be used year round when our students are on campus, and they would also add to the overall sustainability efforts in dining,” Strand said.
Strand said he plans to purchase three additional towers — each able to house 28 plants.
“They are planted and currently located upstairs in Blackhawk Commons,” Strand said. “They will eventually be growing in various locations in Blackhawk. We plan to move them around once they are totally self-sufficient. These gardens are, in part, an effort to promote interest in sustainability on campus.”
Strand said he is excited to see how the gardens will be used and he looks forward to expanding the project.
“The indoor gardens are energy efficient and should pay for themselves within two years,” Strand said. “I am also hopeful that students will put in a request for funding from the Green Fund to purchase additional towers so we can expand the operation.”
The primary goal of the Green Fund at UW Oshkosh is to empower the student body to think up student-led projects that may need funding. Using a small fee of $6 per student, the Green Fund generates up to $60,000 per year. The funds are available for students with sound, sustainable green ideas.
“First things first though, we need to get these gardens up and running properly and successfully. We’ve had a couple of setbacks but we’re learning along the way,” Strand said.
Students can expect to see and taste the new homegrown produce at the beginning of fall semester.