Tucked away on UNF’s campus is a hidden oasis called the UNF Frederick and Ophelia Tate Ogier Gardens. While the garden itself is out of sight and may not be an overwhelmingly present force in the minds of the average student, it is certainly a part of the daily life of all UNF students, staff & faculty who dine at the Osprey Café.

 

What started as a grant-funded program by the University’s Recreation and Wellness Center in 2009 has now grown to cover a little over an acre of land and approximately 500 square feet of crop space! They provide produce beds that students, organizations, and clubs can adopt to learn how to grow their very own organic produce. Open in the Fall and Spring semesters on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the Ogier Gardens offers a variety of workshops, tours, and volunteer opportunities for students to participate in. The Gardens' focus more on produce that are resilient to the Florida weather, such as tender greens, radishes, and turnips. The Gardens also provide fresh, organic produce to UNF’s Osprey Café to be used in dishes that are served all throughout the day. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!

 

Once to twice weekly, the Ogier Gardens' workers and volunteers will harvest the weekly crops they intend to use on campus. This fresh produce is then used in the Osprey Café or sold to the UNF community at our convenience stores such as Outtakes! In the Café, much of the produce is used within the salad bar or utilized in different weekly recipes. (Fresh arugula and tender greens from the Gardens were showcased in the salad bar at the Osprey Café just last week!) Often the chefs at the Café will reach out to the staff at the Ogier Gardens and ask for specific produce, whether it be seasonal or year-long produce. Just recently for example, the Café requested a bundle of rosemary for one of their savory dishes; one of the many herbs the Garden grows year-round! 

 

The herbs are individually grown in crate-like trays that are kept in the green house before they can be transferred to the composted and fertilized soil. Ogier Gardens' worker, freshman Maddie Walker, is one of the workers who tends to the herbs and other produce within the green house. She is a Nutrition and Dietetics major and when she first began working she lacked experience growing root crops yet has always had an interest in food. Maddie says she really enjoys being involved in the process and seeing food in its beginning stages. For someone with limited gardening experience before she started worked in the Ogier Gardens, she is a testament to the success of the workshops the Gardens give throughout the semester, as she expertly explained the benefits of organic gardening.

 

The produce from the Ogier Gardens, as opposed to commercial produce from the grocery store, are not sprayed

with pesticides. Instead, they are enriched with natural fertilizer formed from the Osprey Café’s inedible food parts, like fruit peels.

 

In addition to organic produce, the Café provides and focuses on seasonal cooking with the produce they receive from the Gardens to provide a unique dining experience for students. This seasonal cooking exposes students to a wider range of unique fruits and vegetables that they may not otherwise consume. For example, one of the less popular fall vegetables recently harvested from the Gardens is called mizuna, otherwise known as Japanese mustard greens. (Below are pictures of last week’s harvest!)

 

At the forefront of the relationship between the Gardens and on-campus dining is sustainability. To maximize the use of the fresh foods produced by the gardens, food scraps from the Café are collected throughout the week by a compost steward from the Gardens. The steward collects these weekly food scraps, such as fruit peels and carrot tops, by bicycle to be returned to the Gardens where they are then used to create compost that fertilizes the crops. In only three short years the Gardens composting initiative has successfully composted 18 tons of food waste into nutrient rich compost to be used in the crop fields.

 

Just last year the Café provided the Gardens with 2,800 gallons of food scraps and trimmings to be used in the Garden’s composting bins! This mix of compost returns to the soil, enriching it and enabling more produce to grow that will provide further nutrition to the students, staff & faculty eating at the Osprey Café. The symbiotic relationship between the Gardens and the Café has the UNF community’s best interest in mind by empowering the student workers, volunteers, and consumers to reduce food waste and allows the UNF community to regularly eat produce that is fresh, organic, seasonal, and sustainable.

 

Just a friendly reminder, that the next time you take a bite out of your arugula and kale salad or a cucumber-filled vegetarian lasagna, that it could have been hand-picked by a fellow student farmer, right in UNF’s own backyard!

 

As always, stay healthy ospreys!

 

 

 

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