Auburn Foods: Exploring where our food comes from

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Auburn Foods is an organization that brings campus food venues and food processing and production in Auburn together, both on and off campus.

The Director of campus dining Glenn Loughridge originally conceived the idea to start Auburn Foods. He noticed students were already rearing and raising food on campus, processing on campus and serving on campus. All these operations brought on “a cohesive thought about brand,” Loughridge said.

Loughridge started organizing Auburn Foods but passed off much of the responsibility for its creation to the then three marketing students who now have graduated and are working in their respective field. Kaitlyn Robb, Jennifer Newfield, and James Stephens were the three senior marketing students who wrote the marketing strategy.

Katie Peters launched the campaign, organizing their opening picnic during spring semester 2017.

Loughridge said one of the central goals of Auburn Foods is to involve students wherever possible, giving them “practical real life education students can use down the road."

Agriculture students rear cattle and swine on campus. This cattle is then processed through the University's facilities by students and then is served at 844 Burger at Village Dining. The swine is also processed on campus and is served at the AU Smokehouse in the lower Quad.

Other examples of food produced and sold on campus are cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and tilapia raised using an aquaponics system from the fisheries.

At the E. W. Shell Fisheries facility on North College, experimental forms of agriculture and bioengineering are practiced to find healthy ethical ways to grow food and use byproducts wisely. “We kind of function as a CSA [community supported agriculture] currently…we produce only for Tiger Dining,” said Mollie Smith, outreach program director. 

“Tilapia is the best fish for this kind of system,” said Smith. They grow fast, produce a lot of protein and keep the tanks clean. The water that circulates through the tanks is airlifted and used to both water and fertilize cucumbers and tomatoes. Solids are removed from the tanks and either used as a compost material or for research and development.

The Biosystems Engineering program at Auburn is currently working on finding ways to develop those solids into a precursor to plastics. The Food Sciences department at Auburn is also involved in the process, testing vegetables for inadequacies, disease and negative bacteria. 

This multi-department student involvement is a characteristic of Auburn Foods and Tiger Dining. Loughridge said student involvement is always a primary goal in the university’s “learn by doing” approach.

Right now the aquaponics center functions on two greenhouses. One contains the fish tanks and the other contains the cucumber and tomato plants and is soon to expand. Two more greenhouses are set to break ground soon and will be built in part using student involvement to encourage the “learn by doing” approach. 

The fish tank greenhouse can support up to six plant greenhouses. Up to 15 greenhouses can fit in an acre of land which can produce many tons of food every month. In the past two years, the Auburn aquaponics program produced 20,000 pounds of fish and 30,000 pounds of vegetables served on Auburn’s campus. 

The cost to run all of the pumps and aerators for both the greenhouses comes out to $450 per month, Smith said.

When cucumbers are harvested from the center, they are taken to Tiger Dining in the student center and stored in coolers until they are used. When tilapia is taken from the ponds, it is filleted and served the same day.

The Plainsman will begin a series of articles looking into some of the participants in Auburn Foods, small companies 'with an Auburn connection' and campus operations that help to feed Auburn Tigers every day all over campus. 

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