The school lunchroom grows green
From kindergarten to college, school cafeterias become ecofriendly by banishing trays, growing veggies, and composting waste.
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The University of Illinois, which already has its own apple orchard, is breaking ground on a 10-acre farm this summer – complete with frost protection to extend the growing season – that it hopes will be able to supply up to 50 percent of its vegetable needs.Skip to next paragraph
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The school is also moving forward with other ecofriendly efforts: A composting program will be started at the same time as the vegetable garden. And for the past three years, facilities management vehicles have run on cooking oil collected from dining halls.
“I don’t think we’re done,” says Ruby, noting that the university plans to roll out trayless dining in more of its halls. “Sustainability is definitely a continuing work in progress.”
At the University of California, San Diego, each student is given a reusable water bottle at the beginning of the school year. Also this year, dining services eliminated styrofoam and plastic utensils. If students want takeout, it comes with real plates and silverware.
“This system has been successful because Housing and Dining Services teamed up and created drop-spots at each dorm and apartment complex where students can leave their dirty dishes and utensils,” explains Christine Clark, a communications specialist for the university, in an e-mail. “Dining Services picks up the used dish ware daily.” Also, the dining halls all serve Fair Trade sugar, coffee, tea, and chocolate.
While no one is saying that fast food has lost its place as a staple of college all-nighters, the impact from green initiatives have the potential to continue years after graduation day, says Dr. Krueger. “In the sense that colleges and universities are incubators for ideas and forming the next generation of minds and lives, modeling practices that they can take with them is the most important thing we can do.”
Some students may already have been introduced to more sustainable lunchrooms long before they arrive at college. “There is huge variety in how schools are approaching this,” says Michal Ann Strahilevitz, an associate professor of marketing at San Francisco’s Golden Gate University, who studies “green” behavior, in an e-mail.
“The key is not just giving [students] greener choices, but teaching them as well,” she explains.
At St. Philip’s Academy in Newark, students used to bring fast food and Lunchables for their midday meal. “Before, what came out of here as a result of three lunch periods to the dumpster was just incredible,” says Miguel Brito, the head of the Episcopal academy, which prepares low-income children for college prep schools.
To improve its students’ eating habits and teach the 350 K-8 children about growing seasons and farms, St. Philip’s radically redesigned its cafeteria program two years ago, when it moved into its new LEED-certified building, a converted chocolate factory. It arranged to buy local produce from two nearby farms and created a mandatory lunch program that would take advantage of the fresh fruits and vegetables.
One of the building’s most eye-catching environmental features is the gym’s green roof – 4,500 square feet of teaching gardens, complete with rain barrels to recycle water.