Student-Grown Produce at Rutgers Provides Fresh, Organic Option

About one mile from Rutgers University is a plot of farmland that, for some students, is the “Garden of Eden.”

The location refers to a lush array of student grown organic produce and a student-run initiative that has the goal of bringing healthy to the student population of Rutgers University.    

Spearheaded by student Rebecca Granet, the Garden of Eden was formed out of a desire for fresher, better tasting produce on campus.

Having grown up eating mostly organic produce, Granet said she could taste a difference in the vegetables put out in the dining hall, and discovered that other students also yearned for a healthier, fresher option.

“Why can’t we have an organic option in the dining hall?” Granet said she thought, and penned a proposal to grow produce on-campus.

With the backing of the faculty running the Student Sustainable Farm and the Rutgers Department of Dining Services, the initiative took off, Granet said.

Grown at the university’s Student Sustainable Farm located on Ryders Lane, the plants are housed in one of the farm’s greenhouses during the winter, and for the summer months, have been moved to an outdoor plot.

During a recent visit to the garden, rows of lush, brightly colored lettuces filled the plot.

Granet said the group, comprised of student volunteers, have grown a variety of lettuces, including Flashy Trout Back, Red Cross, Summer Concept and Adriana varieties.

They also recently supplied a crop of radishes to the dining hall, Granet said.

About 10 to 12 dedicated students tend to the garden regularly, in what is often a daily task.

Currently, they harvest the plants on Wednesdays, gather them in bins and drive them right over to the Neilson Dining Hall, where they are cleaned and served, sometimes within hours of bring harvested, Granet said.

While school is currently out for the summer, the fresh produce is used for college luncheons and other campus events, but during the school year, is put right out on the buffet line for students, she said.

The students plan to expand their offerings, based on feedback which Granet said has been overwhelmingly positive.

Students are requesting more organic produce, specifically fruit, she said, but overall, they’re saying that more organic options as a whole would be welcome.

“We kind of created this brand,” she said. “The feedback has been so tremendous.”

In addition to just supplying the produce, an educational initiative to impart more knowledge about organic food is the second part of the project. They’ve sponsored healthy eating events during Rutgers Day, and with Rutgers Hillel and NJPIRG’s Agricultural Subsidies Campaign, Granet said.

In addition to educating the campus community, the group is reaching out to other colleges and universities, encouraging them to set up their own organic farms, she said.

Their efforts have caught the attention of major media, as the group was featured on the website of Yum-O!, a nonprofit organization affiliated with celebrity chef Rachel Ray.