Collaboration grows at Venable Greenhouse


Something new is growing at MCLA, thanks to the efforts and teamwork of MCLA Dining, Facilities, and the Campus Sustainability Committee.

The greenhouse connected to MCLA’s Venable Hall, right across from the Amsler Campus Center, is now home to seedlings that will become veggies and herbs for sauces, salsas, and pickles. When students return to campus next semester, they’ll be able to try a few varieties of an “MCLA Pickle” created by MCLA Dining Executive Chef Tony Fiorentino.

The seed for this idea was planted several years ago, but it took a community effort to get the greenhouse ready to go. “I noticed we had this greenhouse, but it was sort of just a storage facility,” said Fiorentino.

He connected with Environmental Studies Professor Elena Traister, who heads the College’s Campus Sustainability Committee. “There was always interest in having some kind of a garden space,” Traister said. “But the regulations were always challenging, as well as thinking about ways to incorporate such small amounts of food.”

greenhouseThey worked out a plan, and earlier this spring, the Facilities Department staff built raised beds and refurbished the greenhouse, even adding a door so it could be accessed directly. Because what’s grown there will eventually be served, the garden tenders are following state guidelines about caring for and harvesting produce.

Scott Tolmach, general manager of MCLA Dining, said Aramark, which holds the college dining contract, has been incorporating sustainable practices at its campuses for years, including at MCLA. While MCLA Dining staff are already composting, weighing scraps to keep track of and reduce food waste, and purchasing Fair Trade coffee, cage-free eggs, and other foods with a lower environmental impact, “it’s always evolving,” he said. “We’re always trying to come up with ways to improve sustainability.”

“Aramark/MCLA Dining was one of our strongest partners from the beginning when the Sustainability Committee started,” said Traister. (Aramark has committed to reducing food waste by 50 percent across its entire span of operations by 2030.)

While many schools across the country have gardens, greenhouses, or even small farms, “as far as starting from scratch, I’m not sure how many have actually done that,” said Fiorentino.

Campus sustainability intern Anayra Colon has been helping with garden maintenance and raising awareness of the project via the MCLA Campus Sustainability Instagram, @sustain.MCLA. Traister said she’s planning to recruit another student to take over this fall.

In the meantime, Fiorentino is planning three styles of pickling brine for the MCLA cucumbers, and will be cloning the plants grown this season in order to establish year-round propagation and harvesting. “This project is another way to work on sustainability a little bit at a time,” he said. “Right now, it’s just watering and waiting.”

Follow MCLA Dining @MCLA_Dining_Services.