From the earth to your plate; one university's lesson in sustainable agriculture
The cafeteria at Maharishi University is like no other dining hall on any campus in the country. Every meal is vegetarian and organic, and many of the ingredients are grown right on campus by students and staff.
Ayurvedic food preparation, which pays particular attention to seasonal foods, is a growing trend and the roots of the movement are planted in the greenhouses at Maharishi University.
"This greenhouse has been here since 2004, we put it up," said Steve McLaskey, Director of the Maharishi organic farm. "The university had been organic - the food service had been organic for quite a number of years before that and then in 2003, they decided to take the next step and grow as much of their own food as possible."
Maharishi's greenhouse is the first of its size to grow crops year-round in a cold climate. The students and staff who work with the plants have learned much more than identifying a cucumber from a zucchini.
"I get a lot of satisfaction out of growing good produce and provide to the university," McLaskey said. "We also sell at the Golden Dome market, the little market on campus, and at the farmer's market and I get a lot of comments from customers who appreciate the quality, the freshness.
"When we're eating good food, then the action that happens from putting good things in is more directed and its more focused," said Molly Haviland, a MUM student. "So it goes along with the principle of do less, accomplish more."
James Gavin, a worker at the greenhouse, said he has learned so much from working at the greenhouse and it has improved his quality of life.
"This greenhouse is a real opportunity for all of us... and for the county, I think," he said.
"I really encourage everyone to grow their own garden and to look up alternative methods of making sure everything is natural, no chemicals, and everything like that," said student Sultan Salah. "So I would say the experience of working with fresh vegetables is probably the best experience."
"We grow some of the tastiest vegetables there are," said Edward Hipp, another greenhouse worker. "When its fresh off the plant, it doesn't get much better than that."
Then - fresh off the plant - the food goes to the Maharishi kitchens, where vegetarian, organic recipes and Ayurvedic methods are utilized.
"We're trying to keep all the Ayurvedic guidelines in touch with the recipes so that it still tastes really good for everybody," said Sharon Stinogel, Maharishi Executive Chef. "So it's kind of a challenge, but it's fun."
"Since we've arrived here at Maharishi, we've shared the fact that organic and vegetarian is out there," said Ken Zimmerman, food service director at Aladdin Food Management Services. "There's a lot of our accounts that do offer organic vegetarian but not on a wide range like we do here in Fairfield."
The cafeteria serves 800 to 1,000 people a day and after the meal, the leftover food is collected to be turned into compost, completing the cycle back to the earth.