Growing interest in a green solution

Paul Mayne // Western News

Andrew Duhasky, Ontario Hall Unit Chef, harvests a bit of sweet wheatgrass from the Urban Cultivator, a new indoor gardening appliance allowing chefs to grow fresh herbs and sprouts year round.

Western has taken the idea of ‘locally grown’ produce to a new level with the addition of two Urban Cultivators, an indoor gardening appliance allowing the harvesting of a variety of herbs or sprouts.

“Talk about farm to table – you can’t get much fresher than this,” said Crag Clifford, Operations Manager with Hospitality Services.

A British Columbia hydroponics company created the Urban Cultivator as an advanced indoor gardening appliance. The appliance grows herbs, sprouts, microgreens, vegetables and flowers for residential and commercial kitchens. The two Western units – the size of a bar fridge – are located in the kitchens of the university’s two largest residences, Saugeen-Maitland and Ontario Hall.

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Just a few weeks into use, each self-sustaining unit, which runs about $2,500, has produced crops that have been harvested and used in meals.

“There are dozens of possibilities as to what we can grow. This is our first go at it. These are ideal because they are done with their growth within 10 days. You cut them; serve them; and start over again,” he said, adding the cultivators are currently growing kale, spicy radish, sweet wheatgrass and sweat pea.

Not only have the herbs and sprouts been growing like crazy, but so has the enthusiasm of the staff in the both kitchens, Clifford said.

“A lot of staff got really excited about it,” he said. “Over at Saugeen, we have a younger cook and, as soon as he saw it, he decided to take ownership of it. The same happened in Ontario Hall. This is just another piece in the sustainability puzzle. We have been pioneers with sustainability here at Western by getting as much local produce and food items as we can.”

More than 43 per cent of Hospitality Services’ annual food purchases – almost $2.5 million – already come from local farmers.

Western came to own a pair of the devices after Clifford received an odd email from his boss, Hospitality Services Director Frank Miller, about an episode of CBC’s Dragon’s Den Miller had just watched.

“I get an email from Frank saying, ‘Hey, get a couple of these and test them,’” Clifford said. “So, I called our kitchen supply guy and asked him if he heard of these things. He said, ‘Funny you should ask, I just had a demonstration on that yesterday. How many do you want?’ I told him I’ll take two.”

Since signing a deal on Dragon’s Den, the Urban Cultivator has expanded quickly and is selling across North America, Europe and Australia.

Early success on campus has spiked interest in looking at opportunities, perhaps moving these smaller units to other residences and buying larger commercial units for Saugeen and Ontario.

“Who knows? We might be doing baby spinach and lettuce mixes at some point,” Clifford said.

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