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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chef Gardens ~ a Tasty Way to Close the Loop

Wow ~ how exciting to enjoy phenomenal cuisine at a catered event, restaurant or hotel and learn the food was harvested from an on-site chef’s garden! ZWZ participants are discovering the thrill of creating chef’s gardens on roofs, in parking lots and in previous landscape areas.

By using compost from Greenco, the only metro Atlanta food composting permitted facility, in their Chef’s gardens, ZWZ participants are closing the loop. Food scraps and excess food collected from their operations for delivery to Greenco are later used as soil nutrients in the on-site gardens.

Our local heroes, Affairs to Remember, ecco (a Fifth Group Restaurant) and the Doubletree Hotel Atlanta~Buckhead, persevered through the challenges inherent in creating a garden within a commercial environment. Some of the common challenges were space, sunlight, irrigation and soil weight.

Affairs to Remember:
In 2009, Chef Ahmad Nourzad , Affairs to Remember Executive Chef, built an amazing garden in the back of the catering operation’s parking lot. Determined to expand on their gardening endeavor in 2010, ATR replaced their landscape bushes with an impressive herb garden.

When ecco began researching the feasibility of rooftop gardening, the reality of soil weight appeared to be a deal breaker. Not for Micah Willix, Fifth Group Restaurants Executive Chef, who perceives challenges as opportunities for creativity. Micah built six garden boxes for the roof from Georgia White Pine, which he sealed with used cooking oil, versus traditional chemical-based sealants. The weight of the boxes was dispersed by a series of support beams.

Realizing Ecco’s air conditioning units produced 30 gallons per day of condensate water, Micah utilized rain barrels to harness the condensation and pumped it to the roof for a drip irrigation system. Later in the season Micah intends to grow melons on a trellis system. 

Competitive Advantage: Micah is growing vegetables not available in the Atlanta market, which he will feature in seasonal specials for ecco. How cool to dine at ecco on unique creations with vegetable ingredients not available anywhere else in the city!

Doubletree Hotel Atlanta - Buckhead:
As documented in earlier posts, Dave Rossman, General Manager at the Doubletree Atlanta~Buckhead, is a true eco-pioneer. In 2009 Dave contacted Bobby Wilson, the UGA Department of Agriculture Extension Agent for Fulton & Dekalb Counties, for his advice on how to create a Chef’s Garden at the hotel. The first step was to replace the landscape plants in the outdoor patio area with a Chef’s Garden. 

In their first year, the hotel used the garden’s herbs and reduced purchases by $200 per month.With limited sun in the garden area, Dave is experimenting with tomato and eggplant varietals on the roof, which receives full-sun. 

Due to the soil weight, the plants may only be placed along the edge of the roof. For rooftop irrigation, the Doubletree uses condensate water from the hotel’s cooling system.

Our heroes are paving the way for urban agriculture to make a return debut in commercial settings. Not so long ago edible gardens, rather than non-food producing ornamental plants, were common place in urban settings. Congratulate the trailblazers and encourage others to join the urban agriculture movement ~ your dining dollars are a strong communication tool!

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