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EIGHTH & FESS IS SPROUTING

Student group grows, sells organic food

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Sep. 19, 2006 

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With his long beard and denim overalls, senior Danny Atlas might look like an

old-time farmer, but his growing methods are brand new.

Last year, Atlas co-founded Students Producing Organics Under the Sun, or SPROUTS, a student group interested in organic farming. After planting and laying the groundwork for the garden in the spring and summer, the group is now harvesting crops of fresh vegetables -- all grown without the use of pesticides, Atlas said. Last year, Atlas co-founded Students Producing Organics Under the Sun, or SPROUTS, a student group interested in organic farming. After planting and laying the groundwork for the garden in the spring and summer, the group is now harvesting crops of fresh vegetables -- all grown without the use of pesticides, Atlas said.

The group initially wanted to create the garden in front of the Collins Living-Learning Center, said Justin Peterson, co-founder of the group.

"The idea was that it would create a closed loop at Collins," Peterson said. "We would compost the food waste from Collins, and put it back into the ground, then grow food that would end up back at Collins in the salad bar."

But when University landscapers rejected that plan, they ended up breaking ground at Eighth Street and Fess Avenue instead.

Right now the group's vegetables are mainly being sold Saturdays at the Bloomington Community Farmers Market, Peterson said. Each week SPROUTS earns about $50, which is then reinvested in seeds and tools.

Still, the group has not given up on its original vision. It hopes to someday serve its organic vegetables at all the residence halls, Atlas said.

"People will know where (the vegetables) are coming from," Atlas said. "They'll be fresher and have more of the essential nutrients that get lost in transport in the two weeks from being picked to being delivered."

The idea of eating organic vegetables grown in Bloomington appeals to sophomore and Collins resident Isaac Simonelli, who typically eats from the salad bar about four times a week, he said.

"It would be community-based, and that's what Collins is all about," Simonelli said.

Currently the residence halls do not purchase organic produce because it tends to be expensive and difficult to purchase in the volume that residence halls would require, said Sandra Fowler, Residential Programs and Services director of dining services.

The residence halls go through an average of 10,688 pounds of lettuce a month, said Ancil Drake, RPS executive chef.

"We go through enough produce that (SPROUTS) realize they can't provide all of it," Fowler said.

SPROUTS is a community partner with the Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative, a group involved in service-learning classes at IU that has four classes of students involved with the garden, Atlas said. Each class helps develop certain things SPROUTS needs, whether it is designing a Web site or learning about compost methodology, he said.

"One group will be having conversations with Collins (representatives) to see how we can get our food into the dorm," Atlas said. "Basically the classes deal with things the organization needs, but we can't handle on our own."

Because service-learning classes will work with Collins representatives, it is difficult for Atlas to say how soon the garden's crops could be on Collins' salad bar. But SPROUTS hopes that its food will be served there as soon as possible.

Atlas did not have an estimate for how much food the group might be able to grow, citing a rainy season and inexperience. But next year the group intends to double the size of the garden and produce more food, he said. "We want to at least be able to supply the salad bar in the beginning," Atlas said. "I can't say that we'll provide all of it, but that's our goal. We want to provide as much food as possible for Collins."

But it isn't all about the food. The garden also contains medicinal herbs, Peterson said. Certain herbs can be used to treat a number of ailments, including respiratory, digestive and reproductive problems, he said.

Peterson became interested in herbal remedies after he became ill years ago. Now he says he hopes to share his knowledge through workshops the group will be offering this fall on how to harvest and dry medicinal herbs, he said.

"It is about the health of me and of the planet," Peterson said. "I don't want to put synthetic chemicals into my body or have them poisoning my water supply."

Both Peterson and Atlas are pursing Individualized Major Programs that focus on the sustainability of organic farming and said they would like to educate others on the feasibility of farming without the use of pesticides.

"I want the farm to be an educational tool," Peterson said. "We create good, wholesome food but also teach others how to do it."

 

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