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The garden magic of Georgia State’s back yard

200 romaine seedlings begin to sprout as they sit under the LED lights and soak up the nutrient based water, which is located in the freight farm behind Piedmont North Nov. 16, 2017. Photo by Ja’niyah Blanton-Carter | The Signal

In July 2016, Georgia State’s PantherDining began using a freight farm located behind Piedmont North to produce crops, such as kale, lettuce and herbs, using a method known as hydroponics.
Hydroponics is the process of growing crops without soil while using a nutrient based water solution.

“With hydroponics, the nutrients come from a derivative of a solution that aids the plant in speedy seed germination and growth without need for extensive root growth,” said James Glenn, a Georgia State student who recently got involved with the university’s hydroponics project.

PantherDining’s hydroponic system uses hundreds of LED string lights to mimic natural sunlight and stimulate photosynthesis, while streaming nutrient based water into the vertical growing towers. Their system produces more than 3,000 plants at a time.

Once the produce is grown, it is delivered directly to Miss Demeanor’s, Centennial Café, and Piedmont North’s Dining Hall for a farm-to-table experience. But many students are unaware of the green magic taking place in their backyard.

“I definitely believe that’s something [the students] should know about, because we are living in the age where everyone wants to be a vegan,” said Terry Tharpe, Piedmont North’s dining hall supervisor. “It’s very important for us to know as well as cooks. We should know what we’re serving, y’all should know what y’all are eating.”

According to Tharpe, the only leafy greens the dining hall receives from the freight farm are kale, romaine and bibb lettuce. Even though the freight farm website claims to produce spinach, the dining hall receives its spinach from U.S. Foods, one of the country’s largest foodservice distributors.

But are the man-made greens equally nutritious as any other kale, romaine and bibb lettuce?

“The idea is that the nutrient content of the plants wouldn’t be any less,” said Rebekah Chapman, a biology professor at Georgia State. “That’s the goal.”

Cameron Thompson, the key operator for the freight farm, said he doesn’t know if the nutrition value is the same but stated their way of producing is more organic than the traditional farming methods and uses zero pesticides. She said even the taste of the crops grown in the freight farm have a “pure taste” as opposed to store-bought crops.

Thompson told The Signal she believes the best part about having the farm is that they are able to grow their own produce right on campus without having to outsource.

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