Davidson College farming what it can
by Staff Writer
They would need an entire farm to supply food for the entire college, but Davidson’s Vail Commons dining hall is making some dents in its carbon footprint by growing what they can right outside.
About six years ago, Dining Services Director Dee Phillips started tackling her department’s practices one area at a time to become more sustainable.
“I just felt that we weren’t, as a department, doing what we needed to do for the environment,” Phillips said.
So she asked the college grounds crew to replace the flowers that filled beds in front of the dining hall with plants they could use inside. Without much more work for the crew than maintaining flowers, the beds provide ample greens in the summer months that Phillips and her staff freeze, dry and use throughout the winter.
The staff makes pesto from the fresh basil that grows in excess in the warm weather, most of which they freeze and use for daily meals and catering services. Kale and Swiss chard are still plentiful in beds that visitors could easily mistake for decorative purple grass.
“During the summer, when it’s really thriving, it’s amazing how much we get out of there and how much we can use,” Phillips said.
These greens share space with newly planted blueberry bushes, which should start producing berries next summer.
Parsley, that Phillips says the staff picks whenever they need it, shares a pot with purple impatiens.
Student groups manage plots behind the dining hall.
Sophomore garden coordinator Rebecca McKee got involved after last fall’s planting party, when students got together to clean up beds and sow seeds for the fall garden.
“I think it is important to know where your food comes from, and gardening is one of the cheapest and most rewarding ways of ensuring that,” McKee said.
Student groups manage garden plots.
Fraternity and eating house members manage the Patterson Court Council plot and donate produce to Ada Jenkins’ Loaves and Fishes program.
“We just recently harvested before Thanksgiving break and took collards, arugula, kale, cilantro, spinach and mixed lettuce greens and peppers to the center,” McKee said.
The campus food club helps grow produce for Vail Commons, furthering its mission to bring local and sustainable food to campus.
Organizations care daily for their plots and work on group weeding days, plant and harvest together.
“Because it is locally grown, the produce does not need to travel for hundreds of miles, and thus it saves fossil fuels,” McKee said. “We also don’t use chemicals on the plot, just compost that the college generates from the food waste in the Student Union and Vale Commons.”
Inside Vail Commons Phillips and her staff have made other moves toward sustainability. The dining hall uses all China instead of disposable dishes. They moved napkins from the kitchen to tables to reduce waste and they write daily menus on dry-erase boards instead of printing paper copies.
They donate fryer oil to convert to bio-diesel and make their own beef, chicken, vegetable and seafood stock with onionskins and other ingredients they already have.
Instead of down a garbage disposal, all food scraps from the kitchen and returned trays go to the college compost pile. The compost will in turn be used on Davidson College grounds.
Phillips said the kitchen staff makes as much from scratch in the kitchen as possible to cut down on packaging waste. By making their own salad dressing, she said, they avoid having to throw away the gallon-jugs sauces normally come in. They cut their own fruit, make their own granola and bake their own muffins.
Phillips is also gradually transitioning to greener suppliers. Vail Commons now only serves cage-free eggs and will be moving to more humane pork and poultry and antibiotic-free beef.
“You do have to budget for it,” Phillips said. “But hopefully, people will start buying (more humane) ingredients, and the price will go down.”
Vail Commons still has a lot to do for the environment, but Phillips said they’re doing very well.
“It can be overwhelming when you are not thinking about your practices one area at a time,” Phillips said. “Sustainability has become a fad. For me, it’s doing the right thing because it’s the right thing.”
Want to see more?
View photos of Davidson College’s gardening efforts online at www.huntersvilleherald.com.