Green Education Grows at the Academy of Culinary Arts

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For more than 30 years, the Academy of Culinary Arts has adapted its teaching philosophies to meet the needs of the culinary industry. As interest in learning about the origins of food has increased, the ACA has responded by offering its culinary students opportunities to learn about sustainability and responsibly harvested agriculture in a variety of fun ways.

“I want the students to understand the difference between commercially grown and organic products, specifically, what the difference in taste is,” Chef Kelly McClay, Dean of the Academy of Culinary Arts said. “If they’re going to be successful, they should want to provide the best they can for their customers.”

Student Alex Waters is thrilled the Academy is providing students with opportunities to grow their own food.

Culinary student Alex Waters of Egg Harbor Township is interested in learning about agriculture and is thrilled the Academy is providing students with opportunities to learn how to grow their own food.

“It’s nice to know where all of the vegetables you eat come from,” Waters, 23, said.

Organic Herb Garden

In response to student interest, McClay spearheaded ACA’s “green” movement in 2009, with the planting of the Organic Herb Garden.

“The students wanted an herb garden, so we planted one behind Careme’s Restaurant and the students use it almost year-round,” she said.

From April to November, culinary students plant a variety of organic herbs—basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley and more—for use in Careme’s, ACA’s student-run, gourmet restaurant.

It’s becoming popular in the food services industry to have an herb garden.

“It’s rewarding to see something grow from seed to plant,” Waters said.

“It’s becoming popular in the food services industry to have an herb garden, or a kitchen garden where you’re producing some of the product you’re selling in your restaurant,” McClay said.

Locally Sourced Grapevines

Chef Educator Vincent Tedeschi donated several grapevines to the Academy from his family’s vineyard in Scullville. In 2010, ACA students planted the grapevines adjacent to the organic herb garden. After two years of growth, the vines produced juicy, white grapes, which students harvested in September 2012.

Soon after the harvest, Chef Tedeschi hosted a systematic winemaking workshop and taught a group of culinary students how to make a gallon of Chardonnay from the grapes they planted.

The students learned the vinification process first-hand by crushing the grapes, filtering the seeds, adding sugar, water and yeast, then bottling and fermenting the liquid.

Organic Greenhouse

To fulfill the demand for organic produce and herbs in Careme’s and in class, McClay sought additional locations on campus to plant organic food and learned the college’s greenhouse, on the Mays Landing Campus, was no longer being used by the science department.

Culinary students have learned how to plant and harvest a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs in and around the organic greenhouse, including: jalapeno peppers, pumpkins, pineapple, chives and even nasturtiums (edible flowers).

Culinary students have learned how to plant and harvest a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs in and around the organic greenhouse

“Since we’re organic, the students are learning how to combat pests and diseases naturally,” McClay said.

Students who are unable to work in the greenhouse during normal operating hours can still contribute by researching hydroponics, seedlings, microbial pest control, etc.

Hydroponic Farming

ACA students have an opportunity to learn how to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and lettuces in the hydroponic tables located inside the organic greenhouse.

“You can have good greens all year and it takes care of itself,” said Waters, who volunteers his time in the greenhouse.

Hydroponic farming enables vegetables to grow in nutrient-enriched water, which helps them to grow much faster than traditional farming methods.

“The harvest time for tomatoes is 120 days following traditional farming methods, but, that is a lot of time for tomatoes to occupy space in the greenhouse without any results. So, we’re teaching students how to grow tomatoes in hydroponic tables, which will reduce the harvest time to about 70 days,” McClay said.

SeaSalt Community Supported Agriculture at B&B Farms

The Academy participates in “Community Supported Agriculture” with SeaSalt CSA. The CSA is located at B&B Farms in Galloway, where customers buy a share of locally grown fruits, vegetables and fish. Through this membership, ACA students will learn to prepare menus based on locally harvested and seasonal food.

“It’s cool because you get something different every week, so your meal will always be different,” Waters said.

The Academy of Culinary Arts continues to be a leading provider of culinary education in New Jersey for more than three decades.  For more information about the ACA, visit www.atlantic.edu/aca.

Chelsea Pizzi

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