UF Sustainability Efforts Result in Food Donations to Local Community
A new sustainability initiative at University of Findlay is helping meet a growing need for healthy food for locals experiencing food insecurity. Efforts of UF biology students associated with the sustainability initiative have yielded substantial donations of campus-grown produce to the University’s Food Pantry and to local non-profit Christians Helping Other People in Need (CHOPIN) Hall. CHOPIN Hall is a faith-based, volunteer-driven organization whose missions is to “provide assistance, free of charge, to those in-need who reside in Hancock County.” Assistance is provided in basic areas to include food, clothing, household, and personal-care items.
The extra donations of produce are coming at a crucial time for the non-profit. “We are experiencing a 34-35% increase in the number of families receiving food and clothing from CHOPIN Hall compared to 2022,” said Ron Rooker, director of CHOPIN Hall. “Having partners is vital to our mission, and the University of Findlay is a great partner. With the continued increase in family visits to CHOPIN Hall, and UF as a partner, we can continue to assist people in need of food.”
Last year CHOPIN Hall provided food to 4,874 different people from 1,856 different families. In total, 328,200 meals were provided, averaging 900 meals per day. Because food donations are usually canned items and non-perishables, Rooker says the produce is making an impact. “Our families enjoy having a selection of food. Families appreciate the healthy choices, and we rarely have any produce leftover at the end of the day.”
Growing healthy food with the goal of donating it both on campus and in the community is just one aspect of the sustainability initiative which began in August 2022 when retired Education professor Elizabeth Raker, Ph.D. expressed interest in supporting a sustainability program or project at UF. It was decided to renovate University of Findlay’s Hoop House, once operated as a student-run entrepreneurial business that grew and sold produce but eventually went dormant. The three-season polycarbonate greenhouse was constructed in 2014 with funding received the previous year from the Garner Entrepreneurial Endowment.
“In August 2022, Brandan Gray, Ph.D. and I worked to overhaul the interior of the Hoop House that was overrun with weeds, empty pots, and old plastic sheeting,” said Lauren Sandhu, M.S., instructor of biology. “Dr. Raker’s contribution allowed us to purchase new plastic to repair and replace the old and damaged plastic at the Hoop House, lumber to build raised beds, compost and topsoil to spread throughout the entire space, seeds, an irrigation system, and predatory insects to assist with pest control.”
Once the rehab of the structure was complete, College of Sciences biology students enrolled in the College’s Sustainable Agriculture course were offered a variety of outside-the-classroom learning opportunities based at Hoop House. Students collected soil samples from Hoop House and sent them to Penn State University for analysis; they then interpreted the results to determine soil condition and plan future crop growth. “The students were able to learn about numerous principles in sustainability, ecology, and botany. They had a unique and rewarding experience, which was entirely based on hands-on learning,” noted instructor Sandhu.
She continued, “As we began to map out our goals for the revitalization of the Hoop House, we knew that we wanted the crops that were grown to be used in a meaningful way,” Sandhu said, adding that the “Hoop House crops have been productive, resulting in donations to CHOPIN Hall every week since early May. Each week we’re able to donate more as the crops ripen and the variety of what we are donating also increases each week,” said Sandhu.
Crops this spring included radishes, kale, lettuce, beets, kohlrabi, Romanesco, snap peas, herbs, and flowers. This summer, those crops were replaced with beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, strawberries, zucchini, green onions, and new herbs as well as flowers.
Future goals for the sustainability initiative include building a second, year-round structure by replacing the plastic sheeting with permanent, insulated walls. Also included in next year’s plan is the planting of a small fruit orchard, set to be completed in spring 2024. With a more permanent structure, UF hopes to offer courses centered around sustainability in the future and provide research opportunities to students.
To learn more about CHOPIN Hall, how to receive their assistance, or how to donate your own produce, contact CHOPIN Hall at 419-422-6401 or visit their website. Information about the University is available on the University of Findlay website.