University’s ‘secret,’ money-saving rooftop garden ‘as local as it gets’ for fresh herbs

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Tiny purple and white blooms on long, green stalks tower above the weeds in one enormous wooden container. A few feet away, there’s a six-story view of north campus, the Oread Hotel and Memorial Stadium.

Chives are growing in the rooftop garden, leftover from last summer. The garden has harvested once this semester, but will be in full force next Monday.

Chives are growing in the rooftop garden, leftover from last summer. The garden has harvested once this semester, but will be in full force next Monday. EMMA LeGAULT/THE COLLEGE VEGGIE

Janna Traver bends over to touch the newly sprouted tarragon and chives. Traver, the executive chef for KU Dining Services, will start planting new herbs and produce on Monday in the rooftop garden outside the sixth floor of the Kansas Union.

Traver and the KU Dining catering chefs’ started the project in spring 2008 in hopes that they could save money, improve the quality of campus food and do something better for the environment. While they started with bigger produce, like beefsteak tomatoes, they chose to focus on herbs because it’s more effective and has a greater impact on campus as a whole.

“There are so many fresh herbs that I like to use in cooking and they’re very expensive through our purveyors, and you have to buy a larger quantity—some of them you have to buy a pound or a half-pound—and I wouldn’t necessarily need all of that for a recipe, so then the rest is going to waste,” she said. “I thought, you know, if I had my own little herbs growing upstairs, then I could go and pick and in the summer months especially when we don’t have as much traffic it would save us some money.”

(Listen to Traver talk about how her experience as a KU undergrad shaped her project.)

According to Traver, it costs $12 to $15 to buy a pound of basil, depending on the time of year. It costs about $4 for a small basil plant, which can produce at least four pounds of basil and is used to garnish food and make pesto for almost every dining outlet on campus. She estimates that producing just that one herb has saved the University around $3,000 over the course of five years.

“Part of it is about saving money but it’s also about saving our resources. It’s about having something that is fresh that is right here,” Traver said. “Dining services . . . the strides we have taken in the last five years for buying local and for buying local produce, buying products that are manufactured locally, it’s been a huge focus of ours.”

Seven EarthBoxes line the edge of the garden. Traver plans to add some next week when she plants for the summer. EMMA LEGAULT/THE COLLEGE VEGGIE

Seven EarthBoxes line the edge of the garden. Traver plans to add some next week when she plants for the summer. EMMA LeGAULT/THE COLLEGE VEGGIE

The garden has grown incrementally from three barrels and 10 buckets in 2008. In 2010, Traver installed about 10 “EarthBoxes,” which have increased the yield by more than 50 percent, according to the project expansion proposal.

This year, Traver said she hopes to add six more EarthBoxes and a hydroponic tower—a six-foot-tall tower with different areas to put plants in. In the tower, the plants grow with water—no dirt necessary.

Traver said she’s learned that Kansas weather can be unforgiving, and she’s expecting “craziness” this year.

“Just in the five years I’ve been doing this, how the weather affects the yields has just been amazing,” she said. “I’ve really gained a huge appreciation for gardeners and for farmers—folks that this is their livelihood. When you have that two weeks of 100-degree temperatures, that can kill your entire garden. We had a couple of years when we had those really big heat spells, and my yields were a half or a third of what they were the last year. It’s really weather-dependent.”

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Generally, Traver works with her executive sous chef to plant in the spring, but it’s a chef apprentice who harvests, waters and tends to the garden every day in the summer.

“Really there isn’t a set individual who [has this] job. This is more of a bonus, and I look at it as a reward for those who have really been doing a whole bunch, who have gone above and beyond,” she said. “It’s a nice break from day-to-day routines in the kitchen, especially in the summer, things tend to get a little monotonous and you want to be outside.”

The view looking toward Memorial Stadium at the rooftop garden. The garden is on the sixth floor of the Union, but only members of KU Dining Services can access it for safety reasons.

The view looking toward Memorial Stadium at the rooftop garden. The garden is on the sixth floor of the Union, but only members of KU Dining Services can access it for safety reasons. EMMA LeGAULT/THE COLLEGE VEGGIE

Traver said she hopes students take note of what comes from the garden.

“The garden is sort of a showcase, and it’s a visual impact of, ‘Hey, we are doing this,’” Traver said. “When you’re going to the salad bar, it doesn’t matter how much signage sometimes we have up, people just don’t realize that this is grown locally.”

Three mosaics donated by the University Women's Club hang behind three barrels in the rooftop garden. The garden has expanded each year since it's inception in 2008.

Three mosaics donated by the University Women’s Club hang behind three barrels in the rooftop garden. The garden has expanded each year since it’s inception in 2008.

It’s the little things like fresh, local pesto or tomatoes on a sandwich, or a dressing with fresh lemongrass that Kim Nixon, manager at Impromptu Café, said makes a difference for customers.

“It just makes sense,” she said. “That fresh tomato is going to taste so much better than something that was brought here on a truck from far away that was picked too early. It’s also better for you, you’re going to get more nutrition from that stuff.”

The garden seems tucked away behind the Union's sixth-floor patio. The barrels in the area already have tarragon and chives growing. EMMA LeGAULT/THE COLLEGE VEGGIE

The garden seems tucked away behind the Union’s sixth-floor patio. The barrels in the area already have tarragon and chives growing. EMMA LeGAULT/THE COLLEGE VEGGIE

It doesn’t get more local than herbs from the rooftop, Nixon said.

“It’s just the right thing to do, really, to source as locally as possible. It’s something that KU Dining services is committed to, it’s something that we care about, and this gives us a neat way to represent it visually,” she said. “I think that that’s just important. I’d like to see it grow every year and it has, and I hope it continues.”

Parisian, paleo and poor-health vegetarians

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A vegetarian in Paris

It’s not a common sight to see a vegetarian in France, but that doesn’t mean it’s not easy to be meat-free in the City of Light. Restaurant guide books, smartphone apps and exploring other cultures’ cuisines are the best resources for a veggie in Paris.

Paleo vs. vegetarian: mortal enemies or friendly allies?

A nutritionist wrote a Washington Post Q and A that defines each diet separately and breaks down recent research about both. The bottom line: unless you’re living off the land, following a dual paleo-vegetarian diet is possible, but not very feasible or healthy.

Diet dangers: is vegetarian really healthier?

Data from the Austrian Health Interview Survey says no. The cross-sectional study, conducted by the Medical University of Graz found that vegetarians tend to have higher risks of allergies, heart attacks and cancer, and an overall poorer quality of life.

PHOTO: The Eiffel tower as seen from the Champ de Mars/Edisonblus

How to deal at dinner: vegetarians and non-vegetarians can find happy medium at restaurants, at home

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(for video transcript, click here.)

by Emma LeGault for The College Veggie

Nancy O’Connor was dining out with her husband and two boys at a pizza restaurant. They placed their order, waited and conversed with each other, but to their surprise and dismay, the server brought out a pie covered in pepperoni.

The vegetarian family, who had ordered a cheese pizza, explained that this wasn’t what they ordered—they couldn’t eat it. With a smile, the server said he wouldn’t charge them extra.

O’Connor, director of education and outreach at The Merc, has been a vegetarian for 39 years and has experienced plenty of uncomfortable moments at restaurants.

“I don’t want to make that person feel badly, but they were being insensitive too,” she said. “It doesn’t have to do with the cost—I don’t eat meat. No offense, but this won’t work.”

According to a 2012 Gallup poll, approximately five percent of the U.S. population said they’re vegetarian, eating no meat or fish. A 2008 study from Vegetarian Times said 42 percent of the more than 7 million U.S. vegetarians are 18 to 34 years old, compared to 17 percent aged 55 and older.

These numbers are small already, but in the Midwest, where about one percent of vegetarians live, these diets can seem dwarfed by the traditional, hearty meat-and-potatoes diet.

“We live in Lawrence, so this feels, because of the University, like a more progressive community, but [vegetarianism] is still is not the norm,” O’Connor said. “So you have to accept that if you’re a vegetarian, and there are those moments that are awkward, but the important thing is to always be open-minded and never judgmental because that doesn’t accomplish anything but turn people off.”

Going out to eat with a vegetarian presents a set of challenges. O’Connor said it’s best to clarify what kind of vegetarian a person is, and find a restaurant that accommodates both vegetarians and non-vegetarians, or at least one where a salad isn’t the only vegetarian option.

“In this day and age, most restaurants offer something, but eating out is a treat, so who wants to eat out just to eat a salad or baked potato?” O’Connor said.

Dealing with servers—like at the pizza restaurant—or other people who may not understand is as simple as being calm and respectful, and hoping the response is positive.

“As a vegetarian, I really am totally turned off by militant, self-righteous vegetarians…because everybody can enjoy meatless food sometimes even if they decide not to be vegetarian,” she said. “It doesn’t do any good to get all uppity and judgmental about people’s diets. So you have to be sensitive in those situations to communicate in a way that has as much compassion as you want people to show to you.”

Amy Schroeder, a University junior, was a vegetarian for three years and has been on both sides of the table. In high school, she was lucky enough to have a vegetarian friend she could dine out and cook with. However, it was people she didn’t know who were uncomfortable with her food limitations.

“A lot of people aren’t going to understand when they’re not experiencing it themselves,” she said.

When Schroeder and her friend decided to try being vegan, they went to a restaurant with friends, but the only item Schroeder could order there was a sandwich with Brussels sprouts. Others at the table stared.

“That instance was awkward because I didn’t know the people we were eating with, but [my friend] did,” Schroeder said. “I was like, don’t judge me for what I’m eating.”

When she moved into the dorms and was meeting new people, she felt a similar sense of discomfort when people offered her a bite of their food at restaurants in the dining hall. When she told them she was a vegetarian, the situation became awkward, even though she wasn’t offended.

“They almost seemed standoffish,” she said.

Schroeder said the level of awkwardness depends on the reason someone is a vegetarian. She said education is the best tool.

“I think if you just explain it to the person why you’re doing it, it’s easier, but I guess that’s the only thing you can do,” she said.

 

LIVE BLOG: SUA vegetarianism and veganism event draws hungry student crowd, educates about campus options

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PHOTO: Chad Shugert, an SUA volunteer, serves food to students at the Vegetarianism and Veganism food event on Wednesday. About 50 students showed up during the course of the two-hour event to try free food and learn about vegetarian and vegan options on campus.

 

The smell of free veggie burgers wafted through the Union on Wednesday as SUA prepared for the Vegetarianism and Veganism food event in the Kansas Union. SUA and KU Dining teamed up to offer free samples of vegetarian food from The Market, which included Brellas wraps, sushi and fajita vegetables.

Mary Rondon, a registered dietician and student coordinator for KU Dining Services, said the University has recently expanded these options by adding a vegan food station, KUZone, at Mrs. E’s dining hall and continuing to provide fresh vegetarian options at The Market dining center in the Union.

Rondon also said the University has benefitted from growing produce in the rooftop garden, which is on the sixth floor of the Union. Last year, KU Dining harvested 340 pounds of veggies.

Carrie Wallace, a University alumnus, said the scope of vegetarian options has expanded since she attended the University from 2003 to 2008.

“The food is good, but it’s different from what was available when I was a student here,” she said. “It’s a good change, though.”

Dmitri, an elementary-school-aged child, was with Wallace at the event and branched out by trying a couple of new foods. He whispered to Wallace that he thought she might like the breaded mushrooms.

“I had no idea he liked mushrooms,” Wallace said with a laugh. “It’s good to know.”

More information about vegetarian and vegan KU Dining options can be found at NetNutrition or the KU Dining website.

Vegan winners this week: healthy diets, restaurants, Samuel L. Jackson and video-gaming pigs

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All hail the unprocessed foods

It’s not breaking news, but researcher David Katz officially found that no matter what the diet — Paleo, low-carb or vegetarian — it’s healthy as long as it emphasizes consuming unprocessed foods. He published his teams’ findings in Annual Reviews this week.

Vegan: not just a fad 

Currently trending: March Madness, the iPhone 6 and…veganism? The Chicago Tribune asked a few restaurant owners from around the country to share their thoughts about the increase in vegan menu items and those who indulge in them.

Vegan celebrity of the week: Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson joined the growing list of celebrity vegans this week when he told reporters that he has been trying the diet for health reasons. The 65-year-old Jackson joked that he’s “trying to live forever.”

When pigs (learn to) fly

A new PSA that aims to educate consumers about the similar levels of animal intelligence between pets and farmed animals is circulating around the web, thanks to the Farm Sanctuary. The company said they hope to change perspectives about eating meat.

Photo: screenshot from farmsanctuary1 video “Pigs are friends, not food” uploaded March 25, 2014.

Eating organic healthier, pricier for college students

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The USDA organic certification means less harmful hormones and additions, but is the price tag worth the benefit? Emma LeGault of The College Veggie investigates.

The College Veggie: The USDA defines “organic” as products made without excluded methods, like genetic engineering.

There are strict certification requirements, and most often, that means the organic product price is higher. Kelsey Fortin, a health educator at KU, said the price difference is partly because of a more careful farming process.

Kelsey Fortin: If people are growing it the more organic way, it  may be more labor strenuous and they may not come out as cost-effective.

TCV: Fortin said beef is an organic must-have.

KF: Research has found links between the hormones that they put in cows and those hormones causing cancer in humans.

TCV: When it comes to organic fruits and veggies, there are some to save on and splurge on.

KF: Things like bananas or oranges, where you take the peels off, that way you’re taking off that outside layer and that barrier too, so those aren’t going to be as important as things like strawberries. Even with washing they still have the little pits and crevices, too, that make it harder to get that stuff off.

TCV: Sierra Upton, a KU junior, said she only buys organic products she needs within her budget.

Sierra Upton: Sometimes I will buy non-organic just because they’re cheaper, but you just have to make sure that you wash them really well, kind of disinfect and get the gross chemicals off.

TCV: Although there is an obvious price difference at grocery stores, Fortin said there are other low-cost options.

KF: Farmer’s Markets, you know, when they’re open all summer long, those are gonna be a direct source that you’re getting stuff from, and you can actually meet the person who’s growing your food.

TCV: For Upton and Fortin, it comes down to smart budgeting with organic options.

SU: I also don’t do grocery shopping just kind of on a whim.

KF: You know, if you’re on a budget, prioritize.

TCV: This has been Emma LeGault with The College Veggie.

Taking action: extinction, meatless campaigns and electronic music vegans

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You can’t have your burger and eat it too

A new Center for Biological Diversity campaign called “Take Extinction Off Your Plate” aims to fuel the argument for vegetarianism by warning consumers that eating meat and promoting the livestock industry is causing some wildlife—like some species of bears and wolves—to become endangered or extinct. 

Meatless for a day

Last Thursday was the Vegan Day of Action sponsored by Farm Animal Rights Movement. The organization encouraged people to eliminate meat from their diet for a day and engage in social media using the hashtag #Meatout.

The sweet sounds of vegan

Electronic musician Moby proclaimed his vegan diet is a product of his love for animals, specifically his childhood pets, in an op-ed in Rolling Stone last week. He’s followed this lifestyle for 27 years—almost three decades.

PHOTO: Musician Moby is a celebrity vegan.

David Price (Flickr.com) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons