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Auburn University feeds students with aquaponic lettuce

Auburn University students have a new dining facility, The Edge at Central Dining, with literally homegrown food from the College of Agriculture, from salads with fresh tomatoes and lettuce to fish and burgers, and more.

“We recently completed the construction and have already started serving,” said Director of Dining and Concessions Glenn Loughridge. “The Edge has nine different food stations, including one with allergen-sensitive recipes, and it features products grown on campus.”

Loughridge and Daniel Wells, associate professor of horticulture, first initiated a partnership between the College of Agriculture and Campus Dining five years ago through an aquaponics project, which uses hydroponics and aquaculture technologies to provide a system in which nutrient-laden wastewater from fish production is used as a food source for plant growth, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. The Tilapia from the system are harvested and served fresh in dining facilities on the Auburn campus as well.

This summer the collaboration expanded as the College of Agriculture opened two new self-contained “vertical farms” that build on the aquaponics effort. These are shipping containers that have been converted into technologically advanced hydroponic growing stations.

Loughridge says the vertical farms will allow new approaches to providing food on campus. “We've had the aquaponics partnership for a few years now, in which we’ve been specializing in romaine lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. Now, the vertical farms will concentrate on growing different types of leafy greens, while aquaponics will specialize in cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. We have a great partnership with the meats lab, too, providing much of our hamburger meat.”

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