Outdoor classroom continues to grow


With trowels and gloves in hand, campus volunteers arrived last week at the Culinary Teaching Garden for a second year of planting the vegetables, herbs and edible flowers that students in nutrition and dietetics programs will use in meal preparation classes far into the fall.

Sue Rasor-Greenhalgh, foreground, and other volunteers plant the Culinary Teaching Garden.

The setting for the outdoor classroom is the courtyard of Schrank Hall South. It was in spring 2011 that two of the six free-form raised concrete planting beds were transformed from ornamental to edible landscapes. Funding was provided by a $10,000 gift from The University of Akron Women's Committee and UA's grounds crew handled the bed preparation. (Read more on how the garden took root.)

One of the goals for the garden was to introduce the concept of sustainability — showing students how to grow and identify the plants that produce food, or can be used in the preparation of healthy meals. But timing the harvest around an academic calendar is a challenge.

"Some of our vegetables were ready in July, when not many students were around," says Sue Rasor-Greenhalgh, interim director of the School of Family and Consumer Sciences. "So this summer, we're offering Meal Management, which is part of the new major, Food and Environmental Nutrition. Students in the class will begin the harvest and use the vegetables."

Here is part of the 2011 harvest gathered by students.

The bulk of the produce from last year's garden was harvested and used by students in the fall classes, either in meal preparation, or in learning how to preserve it for future use through freezing or dehydration.

"Students in the Advanced Food Preparation Class, for example, used some of the harvest," says Rasor-Greenhalgh. "The class functions as a food service operation. Students learn menu planning, the nutritional analysis of food, and how to prepare healthy and delicious meals in large quantities. They will prepare and serve special theme meals to guests during the fall semester."

As the planners of the Culinary Teaching Garden had hoped, interest and participation in the garden is growing across campus, notes Rasor-Greenhalgh. This summer, Dining Services personnel will plant herbs in the garden for use in meals they serve.

"It has been a very positive experience so far," says Rasor-Greenhalgh. "One of the unexpected, but very pleasant outcomes of the garden is that it is so beautiful in the courtyard now, more people are spending time out there and enjoying the space."