CUMBERLAND – A Johnson & Wales University associate professor is building sustainable garden beds and growing local foods with his class at Franklin Farm this fall and winter.
Teaching at the College of Food and Innovation & Technology, Russ Zito is leading a new course titled Growing for the Menu. This class is designed to teach students in the Johnson & Wales Sustainable Food Systems program about sustainable gardening.
Participating in a 15-week hybrid academic class that includes field time, Zito and his students are in the process of up-cycling shipping pallets to create raised garden beds for a garden they will be building entirely themselves by hand.
“The farm has granted me the use of farm space and the opportunity to work with my class to design, build, plant, tend, and hopefully harvest what we grow to educate these future sustainable food systems professionals in menu localization, indigenous food ways, and seasonal extension while helping to build community awareness and reduce food insecurity,” Zito said.
The shipping pallets Zito and his class are using were diverted from the state’s waste stream, adding to the sustainable aspects of the garden.
“We basically took 20 pallets that were going to go into the recycling center and we reclaimed the flat parts from the top and the middle supports and built raised bed panels from those pallets,” Zito said. “And they look incredible.”
While only having one session last Thursday building the raised garden beds with his class so far, Zito said that he is very proud of his seven students and that they have accomplished so much in such a short period of time. They are planning on finishing building four of the raised garden beds this week while they are at the farm.
“My students are in the process of designing the layout of the garden right now because I told them I had some ideas, but because it’s really their thing, they can do what they want and I’ll give them some direction,” he said. “So we’re going to place four of those beds this week and start planting.”
Zito and his students have plans to build frames that go over the top of the garden beds to create a greenhouse so that they will be able to grow food over the winter months.
“We’re going to try to grow some nice cold-weather autumn crops and then we’re going to bring them back to the classroom,” he said. “I have another class on Tuesday night that most of these students are in as well called Cooking from the Farmstand, so we have Growing from the Menu meets Thursday and then Cooking from the Farmstand, which is basically the local seasonal sustainable cooking class that goes on down here at the culinary school, so they go hand in hand.”
Whatever food Zito and his class grow will be donated to the Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry at 1 Angell Road in Cumberland.
Zito wrote the course with two master gardeners and the help of several local farmers and horticultural specialists.