Auburn University’s Rane Center rooftop garden grows education opportunities

The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center’s rooftop garden does more than provide food and decorations for guests at its signature restaurants 1856, The Laurel Hotel & Spa, and Ariccia Cucina Italiana.

The 4,400-square-foot garden at Walt and Ginger Walt’s Rooftop Terrace is named after a gift from the couple. The garden is also a collaborative working space for the Horst Schultz School of Hospitality Management at the University of Human Sciences and the Horticulture Department at the University of Agriculture. , and Itaca Hospitality Partners.

And that’s probably just the beginning.

“We are always looking to collaborate with other programs on campus,” said Susan Hubbard, Dean of the College of Human Sciences. “The Faculty of Agriculture brings the expertise necessary to support this aspect of the roof-to-table concept, enhancing students’ academic experience in both horticulture and hospitality management. We see this as the beginning of integrating more programs in

2018 Agriculture graduate and horticultural consulting project manager Jack Marna agrees that the garden offers many opportunities for future collaboration.

“We are already discussing the mental health benefits of being in the garden and how we can get psychology involved.” We have entomology partners who can study pressure differences.Our friends at the Bee Research Institute will be able to study the effects of rooftop gardens on local pollinators. Biosystems engineering students can help with irrigation systems and future projects.”

Desmond Raine, professor and head of the horticulture department, also sees a bright future. He said land grant universities like Auburn have been pioneers in testing and developing new concepts and providing research-based agricultural solutions for decades.

“Urban and rooftop farming is the new frontier, and Auburn is at the forefront,” he said. “My hope is that we will write the first textbook, host the first national conference, and be the go-to place for others to learn.”

start with seed

The first collaboration between human sciences and agriculture began about a year ago when Paul Patterson and Raine, deans of the College of Agriculture, were invited to a meeting with Hubbard. Martin O’Neill, principal of the Schultz School. Hans van der Leyden is the founder and CEO of Hospitality Partners, a hospitality management company that operates the Auburn University hotel, Dixon He Conference Center, Tony Andrews Inn Culinary Science Center, and Itaka.

The deal was for the two universities to develop and manage the gardens on the roof of the Lanet Center under construction. Food from the gardens is used in a state-of-the-art culinary laboratory six floors below, and in 1856 the Culinary Residence, the center’s educational restaurant.

“How many aspiring chefs from other schools know that experience and know the process of growing up?” asked O’Neill. “Few schools have that kind of involvement, let alone a roof garden that services the entire building.”

The restaurant itself is the first of its kind, according to Van der Reijden, with the concept of an a la carte menu for lunch and a tasting menu (7-9 courses) for dinner.

Chef Tyler Lyne, co-owner of Birmingham’s Tasting TBL and the center’s first chef-in-residence, manages the menu. Lyne says the Chef in His Residence program “puts real-world professionals in an educational setting,” something you won’t find anywhere else.

Van der Leyden called the roof garden an asset. Because it gives a new meaning to “locally grown”. Because the farm-to-table or farm-to-table concept is so popular across the country, Auburn created the “rooftop-to-table” concept.

Daniel Wells, Associate Professor of Horticulture, Jack Marna, Consulting Project Manager, and Desmond Raine, Professor and Head of the Department of Horticulture, in collaboration with the College of Human Sciences and Ithaca Hospitality Partners. , the garden on the top floor of the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center. (contribution)

experiential learning

At the heart of this collaboration are experiential learning opportunities for Auburn students.

Maruna simply puts it this way:

He and two Master of Horticulture students visit the garden several times a day, seven days a week. Graduate students conduct their own research and guide undergraduate students in the maintenance of the gardens.

Mackenzie Pennington is one of the master’s students under Associate Professor of Horticulture Daniel Wells. Her thesis revolves around different fertilization methods used in rooftop gardens.

An environmental scientist at heart, Pennington was drawn to the project, which combined her interest in agriculture with sustainable food production.

“We hope that our collaboration will allow us to understand and respond more precisely to the needs of chefs so that food is not wasted,” she said.

Spectacular views from the Walt and Ginger Walt’s Rooftop Terrace on the roof of the Tony and Ribbah Raine Culinary Science Center include Auburn’s iconic Sanford Hall. (contribution)

Maggie Mayfield, senior in the Hospitality Management Program, attends food and beverage management courses at 1856 that include a variety of roles.

“As a culinary student, I find it very beneficial to interact with horticultural students, spend time in the garden, and learn about everything from seed to table,” she said. A better understanding of foods and how they are used in different cuisines at our restaurants broadens our knowledge and enhances our guests’ experience.”

Welles called it a “world-class experience” for horticulture students to work on the roof garden.

“Their day-to-day experience ranges from pure horticulture such as planting, pruning, staking, fertilizing, watering and scouting, to other very important tasks such as developing communication and teamwork skills and troubleshooting unique problems. experience,” he said.

In the future, there is the possibility of cross-disciplinary training. But for now, Welles and Pennington said horticulture students learn about culinary science when a hospitality management class visits the roof.

“There are often herbs and items we grow that we have never heard of, but seeing how they use it and learning how to grow something new. We can,” said Pennington.

Horticulture students visit the ground floor kitchen to see how plants are prepared and learn about the art of cooking.

“I would like to learn more about vegetable and herbal flavors,” said Pennington. “What makes vegetables taste better in the final stages of production? Which parts are the most flavorful? Is there anything we can do to make them taste better?”

Marna appreciated the garden as a practical application of classroom knowledge.

“Of course, learning in the classroom is important, but there is something very special about giving students the opportunity to have a hands-on experience on the rooftop,” he said. “Under the umbrella of urban agriculture, students participate in irrigation, pest management, garden design, nutrition management and greenhouse cultivation practices.”

The garden of the Walt and Ginger Woltosz rooftop terrace on the top floor of the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center features plants and flowers that can be used for cooking or as table decorations, 1856 – Culinary Residence Or The Laurel Hotel & Whole Spa. (contribution)

grow a garden

Some of the plants in the roof garden were provided by Opelika’s Bonnie Plant, which donated to this project. Others were purchased from local nurseries or started from seeds in the campus greenhouse and transplanted to the roof.

“The garden looks more developed this way, as opposed to simply planting seeds and waiting for them to germinate, like in a home garden,” Raine said.

The garden is made up of sections, each a raised bed with concrete sidewalls.

The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center’s rooftop garden is functional and beautiful all year round. (contribution)

The bed is filled to a depth of about 3 feet with a rooftop growing medium substrate such as dirt.

The horticultural faculty chose houseplants and edible plants in the garden. All fruits, vegetables, and herbs are edible, but other plants have edible parts. Some of the flowers can be used in cooking, but they are more likely fresh decorations for the 1856 table, Ariccia, and guest rooms at The Laurel Hotel & Spa. It can also be used as a garnish for cocktails.

Rain and Marna said that communication between the 1856 line and the kitchen staff, as well as Chef Leonardo Maurelli of Ariccia and the kitchen staff, was constant.

“Regular communication helps us anticipate their needs and keeps us up-to-date on what is ready so they can plan to use specific items on the menu. ,” says Layne.

Communication was very important when the plants available changed from summer crops to cool season varieties. For example, Zinnia was replaced by Pansy. Kale and broccoli peppers.

Home gardens are usually turned in late fall and replanted in spring, but roof gardens don’t have that option.

“One of our biggest challenges is the fact that the rooftop needs to be beautiful first and productive second,” says Maruna.

Students and faculty continue to develop and maintain the gardens at Walt and Ginger Walt’s Rooftop Terrace. The 4,400-square-foot garden is visited daily to ensure the space is not only beautiful, but functional for the culinary institute and teaching restaurant below. (contribution)

many challenges

Rising above all other buildings in Auburn, the view from the roof of the Rain Center is truly spectacular. A well-kept garden beautifies the surroundings. But the rooftop location always poses challenges.

Maruna admitted she was grateful to have had time to spend in the garden before Rane Center officially opened in early fall. That time was spent in trial and error. Some plants thrived, others were replaced.

“We struggled with certain crops during the summer. And severe summer storms combined to make it difficult to grow fruitful crops, and I’ve had great success with peppers and certain types of squash. We have a better idea of ​​what to do.”

It also allowed the horticultural team to try four irrigation systems before finding a suitable one. Not all plants need the same amount of irrigation, Marna said, so some plants were hand-watered, while others were fertilized more than others.

The 3ft board did its own testing.

“The challenge was figuring out how to water the plants given the depth of the medium they grow in and how they hold water compared to regular soil,” says Raine. It drains quickly and tends to dry quickly, and I’ve found it necessary to use pine straw on top to reduce water loss through evaporation and to irrigate more often.

Weather was a big challenge. Alabama is famous for its hot, humid, hot summers and low rainfall.

“We’re 120 feet in the air. We’re taller than the water towers around here, so we had to pump the water,” Marna said.

A waist-high glass wall surrounds the rooftop, but that doesn’t stop the wind from blowing through.

“Within minutes there will be a sudden storm in Alabama. “I have been here many times after pop-up storms and have been disappointed with the damage it has caused. I have to.”

This story originally appeared on the Auburn University website.

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