Hypdroponic Farm to Provide Out of the Box RIT Dining Experience

Since 2015, RIT Dining Executive Director, Kory Samuels, has been working to bring a 40-foot farm-in-a-box to the RIT campus. The farm, produced by Freight Farms out of Boston, MA, uses innovative climate control technology and growing equipment to create the perfect growing environment 365 days a year, regardless of geographic location. With the support and leadership from Dr. James Watters, Senior Vice President of Finance & Administration, RIT will soon be able to supply our campus with fresh produce all year long.

A desire to increase food safety by controlling production at the source stands out as the primary motivation behind this new endeavor. The hydroponic farm allows for food to be produced on site, free of pesticides, and by RIT Dining’s highly trained staff. “As the food industry changes daily, our farm will allow us to be responsible for one small aspect of our food supply,” says Samuels, “This is the first of many progressive steps to help with recruitment efforts for new students, create collaborative partnerships with multiple colleges (internally and externally), and lastly, push our boundaries to expand the great things we already do in our program.”

The farm can produce one to two acres of crops into a 40’x8’x9.5’ upcycled shipping container and is expected to produce 10-15% of the produce used on campus. It can produce 2-4 tons of produce per year and uses less than 5 gallons of water per day. The farm’s climate, water, pH levels, and more can be controlled remotely. The 24/7 surveillance and data logging will aid in the running of a successful and smooth operation.

The first crops will be lettuce varieties, specifically Bibb and Salanova lettuce, which will be distributed to Gracie’s and RIT Catering to start. The farm will be located in the center of campus between the Student Alumni Union and the Gene Polisseni Center. Produce can be harvested just three weeks after the first germination.

“We strive to provide the freshest ingredients for each of our events,” says Autumn Geer, Chef de Cuisine at RIT Catering. “Being able to serve a salad where the greens were cut just that morning will not only elevate the quality of our offerings but also enhance the taste.”

RIT Dining has hired a full time Farm Manager, David Brault, to manage the hydroponic farm. Dave studied plant and soil science at the University of Vermont and graduated with a BS in Horticulture. Dave owns a hydroponic farm in the Finger Lakes where he grows lettuce, leafy greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes that are distributed to restaurants, through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and sold at Farmer’s Markets throughout the upstate New York region. He brings extensive knowledge on hydroponic farming and is looking forward to contributing a resource that tastes delicious and has a longer shelf-life than traditionally grown lettuce.  Staffing the farm will also require at least four part-time student employees.

Learn more about the hydroponic farm this fall. RIT Dining will provide an inside look into the farming process and results. For more farm facts, visit http://bit.ly/RITDiningFarm.