Students Build Gardens Across Campus to Provide Food for Dining Halls

Gardens on the rooftop of the parking garage and next to the residence halls produce food for campus cafeterias and provide hands on learning experiences for students.

Rooftop Garden

Last spring, 30 seniors from Chemical Engineering Laboratory II broke into seven teams to come up with a design for an irrigation system that could be utilized to grow fruits and vegetables on the 2,300-square-foot roof of the College’s Broadway parking garage. James Patrick Abulencia, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical engineering, decided to focus the class solely on designing something that would be useful for the campus community. 

“My team and I spent several hours thinking of how to create a truly innovative way to solve a practical problem,” explains Michael DiDonato ’12, a chemical engineering graduate student. “We wanted to create a rooftop planter that required the minimum amount of maintenance but yet would provide the fruits and vegetables our cafeterias needed.” 

DiDonato and his three teammates came up with the winning design in Abulencia’s class. 

This project not only benefits our students by allowing them to apply the engineering principles they learned in the classroom, but it also benefits the College community by generating fresh, local produce for our dining halls.

“Our green space rooftop planter is a small system that allows vegetables and other plants to be grown on a rooftop without fear of the system’s soil running dry, as well as flooding, both of which would kill the plant,” DiDonato adds.

This past summer, students from the Green Club used this winning design to create a garden under the leadership of Nathan Hunter ’13, president of the Green Club, and Kathleen Bringley ’13. By combining plastic storage containers, drywall buckets, T-shirts and PVC pipes, the team created a reservoir system to allow the water to connect with the soil, and to start growing a variety of crops. 

“This project not only benefits our students by allowing them to apply the engineering principles they learned in the classroom, but it also benefits the College community by generating fresh, local produce for our dining halls,” Abulencia says. “The presence of the rooftop garden will enable the College to lower its carbon footprint because of the essentially negligible distance required to transport these fruits and vegetables from source to table.” 

Since the first plantings in early July, the rooftop garden has produced watermelon, corn, tomatoes, bell peppers, spinach, squash, broccoli, lettuce, pumpkins and beans. 

“I have been happy with the progress of the garden thus far. This summer, being a trial year, has taught me so much, and I look forward to implementing changes next spring,” Hunter says. “This winter, I plan on storing some things like buckets indoors but also taking a risk and leaving some exposed to the elements to see how they fare. It will be the Green Club’s role to expand the garden, finding funds through grants, donors and the College. I hope to have a more systematic business model set in place by utilizing students from all departments on campus.”

Watch a Video Showing How the Rooftop Garden Works

 

East Hill Garden

In addition to the rooftop garden, the College has another fruit and vegetable garden located next to East Hill Hall, which was built in collaboration with the College's dining service provider, Gourmet Dining LLC. This garden, similar to the rooftop garden, is meant to bring homegrown products to a variety of campus meals, and to demonstrate the value of growing locally and Manhattan’s commitment to sustainability. 

Both gardens are maintained by a dedicated group of student volunteers, and staff from Gourmet Dining contributes to the upkeep of East Hill garden.