Farmshelf Provides Fresh Herbs for Fisher Dining

February 13, 2024

If you have been to the new Haff Caff in the Ward-Haffey Dining Hall, you have likely noticed a new refrigerator-like unit full of plants to the left of the beverage station. It is the recently installed Farmshelf, Fisher Dining Services newest sustainability initiative.

The FarmShelf in Ward-Haffey Dining Hall.

Joel Kraft, executive chef for Fisher Dining, learned about Farmshelf at a trade show at the University of Illinois Chicago. Founded in 2016, the units are designed to grow herbs, lettuce, and leafy greens year-round.

The Fisher Dining team manages the Farmshelf day-to-day, replenishing the water tank and pruning the plants. The unit is technology-based, regulating when to pump nutrient solution over the roots and calculating the light cycle and humidity levels. The result is fresh herbs right at chef’s finger tips.

“The produce is grown right here, 30 feet from the kitchen, and not brought in from halfway across the country,” said Kraft. “As we get to the point where we’re able to put in different plants and know what the utilization is for the shelf, we’ll be able to stop purchasing herbs.”

Kraft hopes to grow two separate batches of produce each semester with a variety of herbs. For students interested in adding herbs to their at-home meals, just know that he is willing to share.

Fisher Dining has a history of sustainable practices. In 2019, they introduced the OZZI machine in an effort to reduce the amount of waste in both food and takeout containers. Students pick up a container from the dining hall, and a barcode on the bottom is scanned, linking it to their meal plan account. After finishing their meal, students then swipe their ID card on the machine and deposit their container. When the machine fills up, an employee empties the bin and washes the returned containers. Each container can be used up to 300 times. The plastic also acts as a more effective sealant for storing food in a refrigerator.

An early adopter of the OZZI program, Fisher Dining Services was highlighted by Compass, its parent company, in its  2023 Sustainability Report (page 55).