By Molly Thornton
Food U is here to bring a fresh new vision to Auburn Campus Dining. In collaboration with local partners, Food U is committed to bringing locally grown, sustainable food to Auburn’s Campus. What makes them stand out? They’re developing students along the way, too.
Food U encompasses a network of partnerships across Auburn’s campus to benefit students and work towards a brighter future for food sustainability, production, and service. In coordination with horticulture students and faculty, Food U’s comprehensive approach to campus dining creates sustainable and appealing food options for all students while also addressing food insecurity. Food insecurity is the result of a lack of consistent access to safe and nutritious food. This issue is widely overlooked, but prevalent on Auburn’s campus. However, Food U has taken a stand against this issue by supporting the Auburn Campus Food Pantry, which gives students access to more of the nutritious foods they need.
Students involved with Food U benefit from every part of the process. As they plant, nurture, and harvest produce, horticulture and agriculture students are gaining hands-on experience in their fields while providing valuable research for the university. Students then get a unique experience being able to watch their peers enjoy the food they’ve worked hard to bring to campus.
“Integration with the Rane Culinary Center along with the student dining facilities gives students visibility into the food they are producing. They get to experience it,” said Glenn Loughridge, director of campus dining. “The students who grew it get to know that they are impacting fellow students’ lives while getting on-the-job training.”
This is not only limited to horticulture and agriculture students, but students in different areas of study across campus as well.
“The vision is that there is a part of the campus community that deals with every aspect of our process,” Loughridge said. “We have supply chain management students that help with creating an inventory, delivery and invoicing system for the food that we grow on campus, we have public relations students that help us promote Food U and we have biosystem engineers that are experimenting with new methods to put food waste to use.”
Students involved with the program have the opportunity to work in a variety of Food U’s innovative facilities. The freight farms house state-of-the-art technology through vertical farming, the aquaponics center sustainably grows veggies by using live fish to nourish the plants and soon, the Transformation Garden will provide organic produce. Additionally, Food U has played a role in the rooftop gardens at the Rane Culinary Science Center. The departments of horticulture, culinary science and hospitality have partnered to run Auburn’s newest beautiful and functional garden to bring food from rooftop to plate.
I was able to visit the freight farms in March where I got to see the growing process at work. Spring mix lettuce was in bloom, lining the walls under special LED lights that stimulate photosynthesis. I was grateful for this unique experience, being able see the lettuce I eat and learn that I’m putting high-quality food into my body. Once produce is harvested from these facilities, it is brought straight to the dining halls, unprocessed. The oldest lettuce ever provided toa dining hall is just two days past harvest. I’ve tasted the difference and can personally attest that this is not your typical dining hall food. My fellow students seem to agree.
“The food never lasts long enough to go bad!” Gwen Ward, administrative specialist in Auburn’s campus dining office jokes. “It doesn’t get any fresher than that.”
Food U is always open to new partnerships as they look for opportunities to expand their network with partners that believe in its mission. As the program grows, Food U is furthering its goal of bringing a brighter future to the Auburn community as students use what they’ve learned to pursue their passions and serve others long after they leave campus.
“We have built in value to what we do,” Loughridge said. “We’re proud of the things we’ve created here, we’re proud of the students, we’re proud of the institution.”
Molly Thornton is an undergrad student studying Public Relations.
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