SARASOTA, Fla. (January 14, 2014) – An unused piece of land in front of the USF Sarasota-Manatee Culinary Innovation Lab on Lakewood Ranch Main Street is now being used to give students a hands-on opportunity to learn about sustainability and local, organic foods. USFSM broke ground on the Edible Garden at the beginning of December and plans to grow organic vegetables, herbs and other plants alongside popular Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
“The Edible Garden came together after our College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership students became involved in a similar project on Anna Maria’s Pine Avenue,” said Joe Askren director of the USFSM Culinary Innovation Lab. “The garden will allow us to demonstrate to the students the possibilities of growing their own produce. This will also assist in promoting the many incredible local farms in Sarasota-Manatee that service local restaurants.”
As students develop skills in the Edible Garden, they will take those skills and apply them to their work in the classroom and ultimately have a better understanding of benefits that result from obtaining healthy, local food options as they move on to careers in hospitality. “By taking advantage of local options, our students will be able to support local businesses and farms, and will also help teach the community about the benefits of growing our own food sources,” said Askren.
When Askren and the staff at the Culinary Innovation Lab saw the success and benefits of the experience at the Anna Maria-based Pine Avenue Gardens, they decided to find a way to host their own version of the project. “We reached out to Lakewood Ranch to see if this was a possibility, and received instant support for the project,” said Askren.
Funding for the project was provided by the Observer Media Group, and advisors from across the community joined in to help.
“ECHO Farms and Gulf Coast Farms have been partners in this organic gardening project,” said Askren. “Sweetgrass Farms has been another fabulous partner with our hospitality program and provided vertical hydroponic units that will allow us to grow all of our herbs on site.”
In addition, Ali Tahiri of Naturali Pro provided soil products that are enriched and chemical free and Mike Miller, a sustainability advocate, pledged his time to help set the garden up. “Everyone wants to see the students and the community create a movement to learn more about these sustainable, local options,” commented Askren.
The initial layout of the garden includes garlic, rosemary, chives, callaloo, Seminole pumpkin, collards, arugula, roselle, bouquet dill, okra, Okinawa spinach, katuk, edible hibiscus, Ethiopian kale and a variety of other herbs.
“Ultimately, we hope that this project will give our students some hands-on experience that will set them apart as they move on to leadership positions in the hospitality industry,” said Askren. “They will be learning about the entire food preparation experience from the ground up; experience that they will share with the community for years to come.”