The hoop house closed its first semester with a successful harvest, producing over 100 pounds of cold-season crops. The greens were used by Torvian Dining Hall, providing farm-to-table food options for the university.
The greenhouse-like structure was built in January to be used by students in the
Environmental Studies program. Students in the Sustainability in Food Production course, taught by
Professor Marie Olson, grew crops from seedling through harvest, and were responsible for maintaining all aspects of the hoop house. This process allowed them to put their classroom coursework into action, getting plenty dirty in the process.
"The goal of the hoop house is to teach students that they can produce healthy foods in a sustainable way," said
Dr. Lauri Chose, Chair of the Environmental Studies department. "It's been a wonderful teaching tool and will continue to be an asset to the university."
Unlike a greenhouse that uses external heating and cooling systems to grow food out-of-season, the hoop house relies primarily on solar heat and natural ventilation, extending the growing season and working with the Loretto climate.
The hoop house's usefulness to students is matched by its benefit to the university, supporting SFU's growing effort toward sustainability and healthfulness. The harvest this semester provided chefs at Torvian Dining Hall with lettuce (mache, arugula, mesclun, romaine) spinach, kale, swiss chard, tatsoi, pak choi, radishes, carrots, beets, sugar snaps, onions, and select herbs and flowers.
To celebrate its tremendous success, Saint Francis President, Fr. Malachi Van Tassell, T.O.R., Ph.D, held a blessing ceremony at the hoop house in April, where he prayed over the garden and blessed it with holy water. The event was attended by faculty and staff, who had the opportunity to sample a variety of the fresh greens grown and harvested by Environmental Studies students in Professor Marie Olson’s class. The students were also in attendance, proudly showcasing their efforts and answering questions.
"I am extremely impressed by what the students accomplished this semester," said Professor Olson. "It's was wonderful to see them excited to come to class, and for them to learn first-hand what it means to grow food the right way."
Students taking the class are in a variety of majors, from
Environmental Studies to
Public Health. Despite their varying curriculums, the Hoop House project provided interdisciplinary lessons that applied to a range of interests.
"Working in the hoop house taught me how the different soil microbes can affect growth," said Junior Marlo Vandiver, who is currently studying Molecular Biology. "It was fascinating to learn how transplanting soils from different areas can help certain plants grow."
Many of the students were drawn to the class by their self-proclaimed "love of food", and their concern for eating healthy.
"I’ve always loved the aspect of growing your own food and eating organic," said Alyssa Rozich, Senior Environmental Studies and Biology major. "It was eye-opening to see what goes into those efforts. I now understand why there is a higher price for organic food...it takes a lot of work."
Professor Olson is already looking toward the future, hopeful that she can harness this semester's success into new projects for students and resources for the community.
"Every other day I have a new idea for the hoop house," she said. "I can see us enlarging the garden to include flowers and pollinators, and to create an ecosystem. It would also be nice to start a farmer's market for the community."
The hoop house has been widely embraced at Saint Francis, and Professor Olson sees its value reaching even further.
"The hoop house is proof it is possible to grow food in the winter in Loretto. This is just the beginning of a sustainability movement at Saint Francis and in the local community."
To contribute to the Hoop House or future projects like this, contact the Office of Advancement at 814-472-3021, or donate online here.
Photos from the Hoop House:
The Environmental Studies B.A. major prepares students to become environmental innovators in the workplace and in their communities. The major is designed for students seeking an environmental program outside the realm of a pure environmental science curriculum. It is ideal for students pursuing careers in areas such as environmental advocacy, environmental education, ecotourism, parks services, environmental policy-making, and environmental law. Learn more