Blog : UNH Dairy Bar Offers Cream of Sustainability’s Crop

By Herb | Mar 18, 2013 | in

DURHAM, N.H. — “Sustainability is one of the UNH’s core values,” says Andrew Porter, the university’s retail manager of dining services. And diners are the beneficiaries of an embodiment of those values, a university sustainability program that grows fresh greens locally for consumption at the UNH Dairy Bar.

UNH is practicing sustainability in a substantive and beneficial way, taking advantage of its status as a land grant institution with a cooperative extension program to grow vegetables on its campus farm, supplying the UNH Dairy Bar with fresh, tastier greens, recycling 90 percent of the Dairy Bar’s food waste, while also teaching students about horticulture in a hands-on way.

Located at the Durham train station, the Dairy Bar has always been an asset for the Durham community, and now it’s taking its efforts to the next level, along the way showcasing its ability to be sustainable in an ever-growing variety of ways.

Last August, Dairy Bar invested in two growing “high tunnels” and a farmer to run them, growing produce specifically for the Dairy Bar in two 96-by-30 feet structures on the Dairy Farm grounds. The major distinction between high tunnels and greenhouses is that the former are impermanent and, importantly, rely more on passive environmental control.

The project is a cooperative venture between UNH Dining Services and the University College of Life Sciences and Agriculture.

In November, the high tunnels started growing lettuce, onions, radishes, beets, carrots and spinach, ingredients for sandwiches, salads, etc., but plans also call for branching out to as many products as possible in the spring and summer, including tomatoes, cucumbers and fruits.

“It’s a brand new thing,” says Jake Uretsky, the high tunnels manager, and as local as it gets. “People will come in here and ask, ‘So this is grown here?’ Instead of the greens being a week old when they get here, they’re an hour old.”

Dairy Bar shift supervisor Jane Calef thinks the program is great. “I see a noticeable difference in the quality,” she says. “People love it. Other produce, when you buy it, looks like it’s in its second week. This is fresh.”

Uretsky completed his master’s degree in plant biology last May. He applies Dairy Bar compost to the soil in the high tunnels, one of which is heated by propane, the other by the sun, with the goal of heating both from methane from cow manure, to, as he says, “close up as many loops as possible.”

Dairy Bar food waste that becomes compost will enable growth of new produce. “The vision is to integrate as many elements as possible,” he says.

In the spring, the program will operate on an outside half-acre plot, enabling Uretsky to grow anything he wants. The University College of Life Sciences and Agriculture owns the land under which the high tunnels sit and the outdoor program will operate.

Rounding out the dynamics of a land-grant, academic research institution is the participation of students from a class called “Food Production Field Experience,” part of the sustainable agriculture and food systems major. It is an experiential horticulture class in which the students help plan the planting, care for and harvest the crops, and market them, as well.

“It’s nice to keep it all together,” Porter says about carrying out a truly sustainable growing program that also includes academic research, teaching and learning.

He notes that, like so many other area food enterprises, most of the previous produce came from the West Coast, and he anticipated replacing that supply would be a slow process. “We thought by February we would say, ‘See you in April,’ but we’ve had a pretty steady supply. We’ve gotten more this early in the process than we anticipated. So far, so good — in fact, it’s been great.”

The UNH Dairy Bar is a business partner of the Green Alliance, a union of local sustainable businesses promoting environmentally sound business practices and a green co-op offering discounted green products and services to its members. GA members get a discount of 10 percent off the entire menu and can save $2 to $5 on lunch.

To learn more about the UNH Dairy Bar visit www.unh.edu/dairy-bar/. And for more about the Green Alliance visit www.greenalliance.biz.