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Food Services Partners with Local Farm to Obtain Year-Round Fresh Produce
Students at the University’s dining centers may have noticed a fresh, new item on the salad bars: baby radishes and beet greens. The produce is sourced from Agbotic Farms, a local farm an hour north of campus in Sackets Harbor, New York. Purchasing from Agbotic Farms allows the University the ability to offer students fresh, locally grown produce year-round—difficult to achieve in the Northeast.
Earlier this year, the Food Studies Program in Falk College worked with the Adirondack North Country Association, a nonprofit that connects university and K-12 institutions with local farms, to bring to campus Kevin Richardson, Agbotic Farms executive vice president of sales and operations. Richardson met with Sustainability Management and Food Services staff, and Food Studies faculty, and a partnership was created.
Food Services and Sustainability Management staff took a trip to the farm to learn more about the operation. “The Food Services team was excited to make the visit to determine if their products would be a good fit for Syracuse University,” says Mark Tewksbury, director of residential dining. The University does its best to serve locally grown produce, but that has proven to be a challenge with New York’s short growing season.
Part of the review process involved learning if students liked the product. Food Services invited Agbotic Farms to share their produce at a Wednesday Feedback event at the Ernie Davis Dining Center this past February. Response to the baby greens was overwhelmingly positive. “The greens are new, fresh and a bit sweet,” remarked one of the student taste testers.
Agbotic Farms began in 2014 when the three owners—Richardson, Cody Morse and John Gaus—created a prototype green house in which they could grow organic baby produce in soil year-round. Their innovative technology is engineered to have environmental control over their product 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This allows produce to grow in nutrient-rich soil, yielding a flavorful product. The farm’s food is organic and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, GAP means the produce is grown, handled and packaged in such a way that reduces the risk of microbial food safety hazards.
From seed to harvest, it takes 22 days to grow a single baby radish. On the 23rd day, Food Services is able to serve the baby roots on the campus salad bars. “This benefits Syracuse University because students are able to have the fresh greens in the dining centers within 24 hours of harvest,” Richardson says. To maintain their quality, Agbotic Farms sells only to companies that they are able to deliver to within 24 hours of harvest.
Currently, Agbotic Farms has one fully functional greenhouse, with the structures for five additional greenhouses and a wash-and-pack facility in place. The company plans to have all its greenhouses up and running by the end of August. Other expansion plans include hiring more than 20 new employees and expanding to grow other baby root produce like carrots and turnips.