TUS ‘Garden of Curiosity’ Teaches About Food Sustainability

Monday, April 22, 2024. 12:35pm
TUS ‘Garden of Curiosity’ Teaches Students About Food Sustainability
Pictured: (L2R – Back) Kevin Ward, TUS lecturer; Jean Chauremootoo, TUS student; Gayle Tarmey, TUS lecturer; John Killeen, TUS lecturer; Shane Sheedy TUS lecturer; (L2R – Front) Geraldine Collins, TUS student; Christopher Smith, TUS student; Kate O’Brien, TUS student. Photo: Nathan Cafolla.

TUS ‘Garden of Curiosity’ Teaches Students About Food Sustainability

Technological University of the Shannon (TUS), Athlone Campus, is aiming to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing the hospitality industry: food waste.

Through innovative food sustainability projects led by TUS lecturers, the department is on a mission to make its five chef training kitchens largely self-sustaining by 2026.

Garden of Curiosity

At the forefront of this endeavour is the innovative ‘Garden of Curiosity’, a kitchen garden where student chefs and staff collaborate to cultivate an array of produce, ranging from baby leaf salads to Brussels sprouts.

With sustainability principles firmly embedded into the hospitality curriculum, student chefs now go out and harvest the produce they’ve grown for use in the dishes they’re making in the training kitchens.

“This is no ordinary garden,” said lecturer John Killeen. “It’s a living outdoor classroom where students not only learn the art of cultivation but also gain a deep understanding of sustainability practices.”

Food Waste Management

The project incorporates a sustainable food waste management system which transforms kitchen scraps from the chef training kitchens into a valuable nutrient-dense resource which can support future crops.

Shedding light on the process, culinary arts lecturer Kevin Ward said this is about creating a circular food system which empowers student chefs to take an active role in promoting sustainability:

“The planting of the produce is really only phase one. By giving our student chefs more ownership of the entire process – the harvesting of the ingredients, cooking, and managing the food waste – they are automatically being more mindful about what they need to make a dish,” he explained.

“Through a special Japanese-inspired fermentation process called BioTerraCycling, students take the leftover kitchen scraps and layer them in a special container without oxygen and they’re converted into a nutrient-rich compost and fertiliser tea, supported by worm composting.”

“Within just 10 days, it is possible to create plant food which can used to further enrich the soil throughout the year, creating a self-sustaining cycle that feeds future crops,” he continued.

TUS ‘Garden of Curiosity’ Teaches Students About Food Sustainability
Pictured (L2R)  Jean Chauremootoo, TUS student; Gayle Tarmey, TUS lecturer; Kate O’Brien, TUS student; Geraldine Collins, TUS student; Christopher Smith, TUS student. Photo: Nathan Cafolla.

Vertical Aeroponic Tower Gardens

Complementing the ‘Garden of Curiosity’ are four vertical farming towers which use cutting-edge aeroponics to grow crops like mint, chilli, lemon balm and cabbage indoors, without the use of soil.

“What’s wonderful about this is that it gives students the ability to contrast the Garden of Curiosity with using technology like aeroponics to grow food sustainably indoors,” lecturer Sean Connell explained.

“The vertical aeroponic towers require less space or water than a traditional garden which makes them especially suited to urban environments, so it’s really interesting for students to see what’s possible and bring those learnings with them when they go out into industry.”

Socially-Conscious Students

“We’re proud to lead the way in sustainability in hospitality education,” said Shane Sheedy, a culinary arts lecturer who has spent many years working in Michelin-starred kitchens, including the renowned Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester on Park Lane London.

“Through these initiatives, we’re not only equipping our students with invaluable skills, but also inspiring a new generation of chefs and hospitality professionals to embrace socially conscious practices.”

It’s not just TUS Athlone’s 80 culinary students who are benefiting from this initiative either – all 300 students enrolled on programmes within the Department of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure are involved with the sustainability projects.

“Be it from sport, event or hospitality management to bar supervision and culinary arts – we want to teach and show them the innovative methods around food sustainability and instil a shared understanding of the importance of tackling food waste and promoting sustainable practices,” said Dr Emma Reardon, head of the Department of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure.

“The reality is, it’s no longer a question of do we want to be sustainable, we have to adapt, but it can be hard to know where to start. Through projects like these, we hope to inspire our students to go out into world, socially conscious and responsible global citizens who will bring these sustainability practices with them into industry and be part of the change,” she finished.

TUS ‘Garden of Curiosity’ Teaches Students About Food Sustainability
TUS students and staff use technology like aeroponics to grow food sustainably indoors. Photo: Nathan Cafolla.

Interested in learning more about TUS’s ‘Garden of Curiosity’ food sustainability projects?

Register for the TUS Athlone Campus CAO Open Evening by visiting tus.ie/opendays and meet the HTL lecturing team.

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