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Campus Connection

Western Sustainability coordinator Casey Meehan is a guest speak for Deb Klug’s Sustainable Food Communities course.

For years, Western Technical College’s Culinary Management program has been all about getting food on the table.

But now, in 2018, it’s about getting unused food off the table, and back into the environment.

Starting this fall, Western’s Culinary Management program is offering a one-credit Sustainable Food Communities course. The class brings in speakers to talk about ways to conserve, reduce, or reuse items in the food development process. Whether it’s the concept of farm-to-table foods or using environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies after cooking, the class is reshaping how Western’s culinary students see and use their food.

“The world needs to start conserving, and what better place to start than with the food supply, which affects everyone on the planet,” said Deb Klug, program head of the Culinary Management program at Western. “By having a general understanding of sustainable food practices, our graduates will be able to implement environmentally-sound practices in their facilities.”

The class meets for one hour each week, with speakers from Organic Valley, Waste Management, and other companies, teaching students about better ways to cook using sustainable practices.

One of those practices is food waste dehydration, which takes waste from food products and breaks down the components into compost using heat. Rather than simply throwing food waste away, the dehydrator allows the user to utilize the food for other things with some amendments, such as mulch.

Western will soon implement this practice by installing a food dehydrator at Western’s foods lab to break down food waste from the Union Market, Lunda Center catering, and Culinary Management classes.

“Not only will it save money, but it gives our students an opportunity to work with a state-of-the-art piece of equipment,” said Klug. “It is fascinating that we now can use items that we used to throw away to generate a useful product.”

The final product from the dehydrator will be given to Western’s horticulture and chemistry students, who will learn how to analyze and amend soil for sustainable needs. Those students already grow microgreens for the Union Market chefs, but the hope is those students will soon be able to use the compost from the dehydrator.

“Each week, a student from our class will be assigned to help our chefs maintain records, work with the dehydrator, collect compostable material, and act as the liaison between the foods area and the greenhouse,” said Klug. “The hope is that we will create a full? cycle of sustainable food practices.”

Western continues to expand sustainable learning into the classroom, something Casey Meehan, sustainability coordinator at Western, hopes will continue.

“This is going to exponentially help our Culinary Management students in the field after they graduate,” said Meehan. “I hope our students think deeply about our food system, and that it gives them tools to reimagine how our food might be produced in a way that is healthier for those producing it, healthier for those consuming it, and healthier for the environment.”

The food waste dehydrator is expected to be installed in the coming weeks. To learn more about sustainable education at Western, head to www.westerntc.edu/sustainability.

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