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Culinary Arts ‘Going Green’

June 16, 2010

West Virginia Northern Community College's culinary arts department is taking a three-pronged approach to "going green" by gardening, recycling and composting.

Chef Gene Evans, an instructor in Northern's program, and culinary arts students have planted a vegetable garden on the downtown Wheeling campus this spring, with a goal to use some of the vegetables in the school kitchen and to donate produce to local feeding programs. "I had several students helping over the two days that we were moving top soil and planting," he said.

Northern President Martin Olshinsky made the project come to fruition by approving the removal of an amphitheater on the front lawn of the B&O Building and allowing development of the garden on that site, Evans said. Marion Gruber, director of the culinary arts department, and chef-instructor Chris Kefauver "have been very supportive of the project with time and efforts in getting the project to this stage," he added.

Article Photos

Chef Gene Evans, an instructor in West Virginia Northern Community College’s culinary arts department, visits the new culinary garden that he and students have planted on the Wheeling campus.

Photo by Linda Comins

The gardeners hope the crops will be used for production in the culinary arts department when classes resume in mid-August, with earlier-harvested produce being donated to the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling and Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center, or being sold at farmers' markets with proceeds going into the culinary arts fund, Evans said.

Currently growing in the garden are seven varieties of heirloom tomatoes, a subtropical fruit, green peppers, brussel sprouts, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes and a variety of different herbs. "All of these plants in this garden were donated," he added.

"We want it (the garden) to be functional, educational and illustrate that we're more environmentally conscious of our food choices," he commented. "We're following a trend in the restaurant industry of being more careful about processing and using products."

It took five 10-ton loads of dirt to fill in the spot where the garden is located, Evans pointed out. "Seven students helped move the dirt, till the dirt and plant. Three other students agreed to come down once a week and weed and plant," he related. "Once people put their hands in the dirt, they take ownership of this project."

The chef anticipates that most of the vegetables will be ready to begin harvesting in mid-July. "We hope it will be producing all the way into when we get back into classes" in August, he added.

"I'm very excited about this whole thing," Evans remarked. "I hope students really learn what it means to get hands in the dirt and to harvest right off the vine."

The department has embarked upon a three-phase "green initiative" that involves recycling glass, plastic, aluminum and cardboard within the department; planting the garden and establishing a composting program, Evans explained. "We hope to achieve a full circle by eliminating/reducing our waste and fertilizing the garden. We plan on placing a six-foot decorative wrought iron fence around it, decorated around the perimeter with edible flower varieties," he said.

"I've constructed a couple of rain barrels to collect water to water the plants so we won't have to use the city water," he added.

The Elizabeth Stifel Kline Foundation has contributed $5,000 for the initiative, Evans said. "Savage Construction donated backfill for us to get the garden level. Gil Thermes donated part of the cost of the fence. Eagle Manufacturing donated all of the bins we're using in recycling," he added.

To raise additional funds for the project, the culinary arts department is selling recyclable shopping bags in the campus store. Evans said they also are seeking grants from two foundations.

At the urging of culinary arts students, the department has launched a recycling program to collect plastic, aluminum and glass on the Wheeling campus, with recycling bins placed in the Education Center and the B&O Building, Evans said. Cardboard is collected and taken to another recycling program.

The majority of recyclable material is being collected inside the culinary arts department, he said. Recycling has begun "based on a concern from students, and we wanted to meet that," he commented.

The garden is the second phase of the "green initiative," with composting being the third phase, he said. Evans wants to acquire a special composting machine that can turn "70 pounds of scrap into five pounds of compost overnight." However, the machine costs almost $18,000, which is why additional funding is being sought for the project, he said.

By using this composting machine, "we could turn that (waste) into hundreds of compost to use in the garden," the chef explained. The overnight process is preferable to traditional methods of composting which can take three to four weeks to complete, he said.

Composting would bring sustainability to the initiative by "creating a full circle," Evans commented. "We're being a little bit more environmentally conscious as to how we produce food."

To introduce the garden to area residents, Evans is offering a culinary garden tour for the Ohio County Public Library's adult summer reading program at 1 p.m. Friday, July 23. The program will begin at the Wheeling library, continue with a tour of the WVNCC garden and conclude in the culinary arts kitchen where Evans will prepare a dish with ingredients fresh from the garden.

"I think it will be a great way to introduce people to what we're trying to accomplish," he commented. "Hopefully, we will be able to harvest and take it up to the kitchen and create a dish. I hope it will be a nice educational experience all around."

The concept phase for the "green initiative" began last July and has involved a year's worth of work to date. "It's just been tremendous, all of the support we've gotten through all of these individual efforts," Evans remarked.

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