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Bruin Plate looks to nurture salad bar greens in aeroponic towers

UCLA officials plan to replace the plant beds on the Sproul Landing deck with a tower garden to grow fresh greens for Bruin Plate’s salad bar. (Laura Uzes/Daily Bruin)

By Eric Bazak

Jan. 31, 2017 10:11 p.m.

Bruin Plate’s salad bar may soon use produce that’s grown in a soilless garden.

UCLA officials hope to add a garden to Sproul Landing’s deck to teach students about soil-free technology.

Housing and Hospitality Services officials plan to install 50 aeroponic towers as early as mid-April after the project’s budget is approved, said sustainability manager Emma Sorrell. Aeroponics is the science of growing plants using air and mist, without soil or a similar medium. The university will remove the two rose-filled planter beds on the Sproul Landing deck if the proposal goes through.

Sorrell said the aeroponic towers would promote sustainability and increase the campus’ food supply. Each tower has up to 44 growing sites and will help supply leafy greens to Bruin Plate. The plants will produce new greens every four weeks.

The towers use about 90 percent less land and water than conventional farming does, Sorrell added. They each have a reservoir for plant roots to hang inside and a pump that recycles the water and uses it for future plants. The process better oxygenates the plant roots and speeds up plant growth.

[Related: Student garden blossoms with hands-on help from UCLA’s gardening club]

“The technology allows you to grow food right on campus with a very dense urban environment,” she said.

Sorrell added urban areas usually do not have space to grow food with conventional farming methods, so they rely on importing food from rural areas. The towers will help alleviate transportation costs and increase the freshness of Bruin Plate’s produce, she said.

“Of course we are in a drought situation in California, so being able to … grow food with sustainability is something we want to demonstrate on campus,” Sorrell said.

Similar towers are already located outside the Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, she added.

Christina Lee, the undergraduate student government student wellness commissioner and member of UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative, said she thinks the project will be educational for students.

“It is definitely a useful project,” Lee said. “It might be inspiring to students to see that sustainability can be achieved in an urban landscape, and that something like this can also produce more food. So it is also useful for food security in a broader aspect.”

However, students will not be able to tend the garden. LA Urban Farms, the provider of the towers, will maintain the towers, which includes fertilizing the seeds and ensuring they operate properly.

Although students are not allowed to participate, Sorrell said they can learn about the technology by observing the towers.

[Related: UCLA unveils improvements to botanical garden entrance]

Adithya Shekhar, a third-year biology student, said he thinks it is important that the university continue to pursue environmentally friendly projects.

“It sounds very interesting and I like that they are taking initiative about doing more things for the environment,” he said. “A garden outside of B-Plate is pretty cool and I’m excited to see how the salad bar tastes.”

Wenrui Zhang, a first-year undeclared physical sciences student, said she thinks students need to play some role in tending the garden to truly learn about garden towers.

“It is really important for students to get involved in the actual experience to get a deeper understanding of what they are trying to do (with this project),” said Zhang.

Housing and Hospitality Services is working with the Housing maintenance team and UCLA Dining Services to coordinate logistics like installation and irrigation, Sorrell said.

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Eric Bazak
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