Typically, it takes 80 to 90 days to grow a carrot; from picking the right soil to tending and harvesting them at the right time. Then of course, the carrots go through shipping and delivery.

The Zorn Dining Commons at Keene State College used to show this message through an oversized model of a carrot. It hung above the staircase and students couldn’t miss the site. It takes so much dedication, time, and effort to grow food, but only mindless seconds to swipe leftovers into a waste bin.

Brittany Murphy/ Equinox Staff: KSC students enjoy meals at the Zorn Dining Commons while hydroponic herbs sprout around them.

Brittany Murphy/ Equinox Staff: KSC students enjoy meals at the Zorn Dining Commons while hydroponic herbs sprout around them.

The KSC campus has made endless amounts of effort to keep the environment sustainable and eco-friendly. Paul Striffolino, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs at KSC, came up with an idea to add onto campus at a Sustainability Conference in May this year.

Working together with Josef Quirinale, general manager of KSC Dining Services; Chef Rich Ducharme, DC executive chef; local company Beez Kneez and members of the greenhouse, Striffolino helped start a sufficient growing system at the DC.

This invention is the Green Diamond Aerosystem. The dining hall has two Green Diamond Aerosystem setups growing vegetables, plants and other herbs. The machine is a white circular rotating hydroponic system.

Striffolino said the machine completely eliminates the purpose of soil; the plants are suspended inside the white unit. The spray is on a timer and it repeatedly waters the plants directly to their roots. He said the mist is what is making the plants grow food.

Quirinale stressed how important it is to have the correct nutrients in the water.

A poster above the machines in the Zorn Dining Commons explains that the aerosystem has the capacity of 120 plants in an area of 16 square feet.

Additional to the  Green Diamond Aerosystems, there are nine plant boxes with light material soil with some edible and non-edible plants hanging from some of the windows at the DC. They also take notice to how much light is available to the plants.

The DC staff needs some outside help to “go green.’’ For this, Striffolino said he hired Samantha Strubel, a student who works at the greenhouse at the Science Center building, to help take care of the plants. She gave the rest of the team a good connection with the greenhouse where they started growing the seeds. They then moved them over into the hydroponic machines.

Strubel goes in two to three times a week and checks on the plants and water and keeps a record of changes. Striffolino also mentioned she had experience from working at an organic farm over the summer.

Another important helping member is the owner from Beez Kneez, a local hydroponic company on Emerald Ct. The owner, Jason Burlie, helped them work and develop the machine.

Striffolino said this gave them a nice connection with the town. He said Burlie helps them with any suggestions whether to add light, more food and Jason checks out how well they have grown and developed as well.  This is new to everyone because this machine has never been sold before. Together they helped each other learn the technology.

KSC has made it a mission of theirs to have a “GO GREEN” campus. The Zorn Dining Commons works with R.O.C.K.S., a recycling club on campus.

Members will be going in once a week collecting waste to show students how much food goes to waste to raise consciousness.

Striffolino also said in the last four to five years the DC has made a significant amount of changes by buying locally, buying disposable wear and decomposable products, and eliminating unnecessary wrapping and paper.

Quirinale also said they have been trying to compose everything, including the food in the café and that they don’t have a lot of pre consumer waste. He said just like vegetable trimmings, they all go to the campus compost pile.

His team is in the works of putting together a whole new system where the waste will be taken to a nearby farm, heated and turned into compost, and the waste will be taken care of. “We’ve gotten better, but there’s a thousand new kids on campus we need to help understand,” Quirinale said.

Part of this learning process is the hydroponic aerosystems. “I’ve been sitting next to this lettuce for a month!” Executive Chef Rich Ducharme said.

Hydroponics has been around for awhile and it is a very curious subject. He said this is pretty much an awareness piece.

He also stressed that these plants don’t offset anything that they buy. They would need acres of greenhouses to supply food for the whole dining commons. This project is all about exposing information to students. “Food doesn’t just appear, there’s a process to it,” Ducharme said.

The plants are growing. Looking back on them last month they are much taller. Some of these plants are herbs, red ivy, rosemary, lettuce, basil, tomatoes and some colored flowering plants are being harvested.

According to Ducharme, they are trying to expose students to the growing process. It is a microscopic view of how long it takes things to grow, and with these plants you still don’t have enough to feed ten people. ”I’ve already used herbs, and we’ll use more,” Chef Ducharme said.


Bethany Ricciardi can be contacted at bricciardi@keene-equinox.com

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