Soon, the Sodexo cafeteria will receive a brand new addition to its new addition. Next year, food won’t just be served, but will also be grown in the dining hall.
Kipos, Whitworth’s community gardening club, is in the process of building a hydroponics enclosure in Sodexo’s new addition. The enclosure will yield fresh herbs and spices, which Sodexo will incorporate into the daily menu.
“The goal of this project is to get people started on thinking, ‘Where does my food come from?’ and thinking about it in a more holistic way,” Kipos president Dana LeRoy said.
LeRoy also said he hopes the project will show students that people can grow food themselves, even if they don’t have a lot of land available.
All of the parts for the enclosure were sourced from a local hardware store, with the labor provided by members of Kipos. The enclosure will be ready by the first week of May, LeRoy said.
The concept behind hydroponics is rooted in basic agricultural theory. Plants need water, sunlight and a combination of minerals found in soil to grow. If those mineral nutrients are dissolved in water (water that the roots of a plants are steeped in), then there is no need for soil. That means the plants can be grown anywhere there is sunlight. And there’s plenty of sunlight in Sodexo.
The hydroponics initiative was the brainchild of junior Alden Welsch, an applied physics major who first started experimenting with hydroponics and aquaponics in his home. Another Whitworth student, junior Craig Bingham had developed a similar interest in hydroponics and sustainable living during his time studying abroad in Costa Rica.
This year, Welsch and Bingham live in a house off campus complete with its own aquaponic ecosystem. Rather than flooding the roots of plants with nutrients, small fish lived in the water that the plants were being raised in. The waste from the fish fed the plants, and the plants put oxygen back into the water for the fish.
The Sodexo connection didn’t occur to Welsch until Jan Term. Welsch was inspired when he dined at Sodexo at Gonzaga in the beginning of the year, and saw that they had hydroponics systems lining all the windows. The lettuce grown in the hydroponic enclosures was being used in the cafeteria’s food.
“I said, ‘Hey, Sodexo caters for us, too,’” Welsch said. “So, we should do this, too.”
Welsch and Bingham put together a proposal, and explained their idea to Jim O’Brien and Dan King, Sodexo managers at Whitworth.
“By the looks on their faces, we weren’t sure if they were on board or not,” Welsch said. “They’re very forward-thinking about what they want to do with the HUB. They were very cooperative on working with us on both budget and logistics.”
The enclosure will cost roughly $800. ASWU provided approximately half the funding for the raw materials, with the other half provided by Sodexo.
The first year will be trial and error, LeRoy said. However, he said, there’s room to expand if it does well. Members of Kipos have considered plans for hydroponic gardens in the dorms, although no formal proposals have been made.
Welsch plans to transfer to Washington University of Saint Louis next year to join the engineering program, so he will be unable to experience firsthand the fruits of his labor when classes resume in the fall. However, he said he hopes the hydroponics initiative will continue to grow after he’s gone.
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