CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new organic fruit and vegetable garden planted next to a residence hall at Oregon State University is part of a shifting philosophy by housing and dining landscapers. The Food Forest, which was first created this spring next to Callahan Hall on the east side of the Corvallis campus, provides food, shade and color, as well as boundless educational opportunities.
Landscape technicians Brian Kreft and Sylvan Pritchett help maintain the garden, along with help from OSU students and staff. The garden was created by University Housing and Dining Services in partnership with the departments of horticulture and crop and soil science, to offer educational and volunteer opportunities for students and to provide organic produce for some of UHDS’ restaurants and retail food operations.
Kreft and Pritchett, who are both accredited by organic certifier Oregon Tilth, are dedicated to shifting UHDS landscaping toward a more educational, natural, chemical-free approach that embraces color, texture, and yes, sometimes weeds.
“We’re designing a landscape that distracts the eyes from any weeds,” Kreft said. “This shifts us away from how we used to look at landscapes. For instance, that watermelon behind us is a great groundcover. It suppresses weeds but allows the fruit trees to grow.”
OSU already has organic food gardens on the edge of campus, but the Food Forest is the first such space in central campus, and was intentionally placed so students would become interested in what was growing along their path.
Jaime Herrera, executive chef for UHDS, said food service on campus has been greatly expanding its focus on local, organic and seasonal food offerings, and working with Kreft and Pritchett has expanded that further with the chance to go into the garden and actually pick what they’re serving.
“From the cook’s perspective, the garden is an inspiring space where you can take a quick break from the kitchen,” Herrera said. “It sparks your imagination and revives you. It allows you to expand your offerings by seeing what’s available.”
A new restaurant called “Five Four One,” under construction in nearby McNary Hall, will depend partially on the Food Forest and a new garden to be created on the east side of McNary, for its produce. Under the direction of chef Dale Lawson, the restaurant, which opens in September, will offer mostly locally sourced foods based on what’s available during the year, and will be inspired in part by what they find in the garden.
“One of the most exciting parts about Five Four One is the educational component,” Lawson said. “Students will be able to broaden their horizons and try new things. Beets might not be number one on their list of choices but we can provide them in an interesting way that makes them want to try it.”
Ideally, Kreft and Pritchett say, there would be an organic garden next to each residence hall on campus. While it isn’t practical for the campus to produce all of its food needs, having even a small portion grown right on the doorstep creates endless educational opportunities, and enhances campus beauty in new ways.
“The vision is that everyone has access to this space,” Pritchett said. “The Food Forest is open to everyone and that’s the intention. We want people to be excited about the landscape.”