By Kathy Walsh
BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – At a dining hall at the University of Colorado Boulder, students can eat salad greens fresh from a garden just 20 feet away. The lettuce is grown in a high-tech greenhouse attached to the Village Center Dining and Community Commons. This is farm to table at its freshest.
Arugula and red Russian kale were being harvested on the day CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh visited the vertical vegetable garden. She learned, here, nobody gets their hands dirty.
“Air and water gives you food,” explained Alex Macmillan, horticulturalist and Farm Manager.
This is an aeroponic farm. The greens grow without soil in a man-made material that holds water.
“Because the water is recirculating they’ll just grow inside these towers without any media,” said Macmillan.
The plants are plucked off grow towers. There are 137 able to produce 44 plants each.
The greens go straight to tables steps away because this farm is attached to the Village Center dining hall at CU.
“It’s just really cool to see them working,” said sophomore Garrett Uythoven, “You see it coming actually from a greenhouse environment to your plate.”
“I don’t think you could get any fresher unless you brought your plates in here,” laughed Macmillan.
He explained that a computer maintains optimal light, temperature and growing conditions in the state-of-the-art greenhouse.
“It’ll send alerts to my phone if something should go wrong with the greenhouse,” he said.
And Macmillan has thought of everything. He even employs good bugs to fight pests.
“Instead of having to use a pesticide, we can actually use the good bugs to fight the bad bugs,” Macmillan said.
CU sees the air garden as helping reduce its carbon footprint and cut energy costs. And the hope is openly growing lettuce is a lesson for students in food production, and fresh produce is something they come to appreciate.
These days it’s all about greens in the greenhouse, but in the future they may add peppers, eggplant or tomatoes, whatever the chefs’ desire.