HCC serves up student-grown produce

This spring, the greens served in Haywood Community College’s cafeteria couldn’t have been more local — they were grown just outside on the college campus itself by horticulture students.

The buy-local movement has taken off at HCC. In addition to ramping up the horticulture capacity on campus to provide even more student-grown food in the cafeteria, the school has also launched initiatives to buy from local farmers.

When Jim Hill took the position as HCC’s food service manager, he learned of lettuce being grown by the horticulture students and approached instructor George Thomas about supplying the cafeteria with produce. Thomas’s students provided lettuce to top burgers and stocked the salad bar with fresh spring mix several times. Hill watched with pleasure as diners sought out the greens grown on site.

“There was really buy-in from the students who eat in the cafeteria,” Hill said. “I like that students in the classes are growing for a purpose.”

Haywood students are learning about alternative growing methods like hydroponics where plants grow in a nutrient rich liquid solution instead of soil, and aeroponics where plants get a fine mist of nutrients and water to the roots in lieu of soil.

What’s more, students are learning a practical skill: how to produce much-needed food.

The college’s current aeroponics system was made possible by a mini grant from the Haywood Community College Foundation. Hill and Thomas are seeking more support so they can expand their systems and expand the college’s food production. In addition to more lettuce, Hill wants to serve herbs, tomatoes, and mixed vegetables grown on campus.

Hill is also championing local farms by asking for it from their produce supplier, Christopher Produce of Haywood County. The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project is in the process of certifying Christopher Produce as an Appalachian Grown distributor. Appalachian Grown branding identifies farm products grown or raised on family farms in Western North Carolina and the Southern Appalachian mountains.

Hill, in addition to participating in Farm to School programs offered by ASAP, will work with the organization to design a promotional campaign for local food in the cafeteria.

“Local food production is a vital part of any community. It provides jobs for growers and a sense of connection to food for the consumer,” Thomas says, looking at local food not only as a product for his students, but as a benefit for all.

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