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From Food Scraps To Fertilizer

With Earth Week just around the corner, we sat down with Christopher Lichtenhan, SAGE Dining Services’ Food Service Director, to learn how he and his team are ‘investing in our planet’ through sustainability initiatives on campus — particularly those involving the food we eat and the waste we generate.

Lichtenhan knows a thing or two about looking out for the planet we share. He has his own closed-loop family farm in Charlton, Massachusetts. Says Lichtenhan, “during the growing season, we enjoy true farm-to-table cuisine at home and I can tell you there is nothing better than picking and cooking from your own garden. It is a lot of effort, but [...] truly worth it.”

Here at Marianapolis, “the whole community is forward-thinking, which is great, as [sustainability] has always been important to me.” When it comes to sustainability initiatives, they “should not be looked at as a singular effort, but as a collective effort. As much as possible, we need to be role models for the future generations that come through this school — not only to benefit the school itself but to benefit the community that we are a part of.”

One exciting new initiative allows for raw vegetable scraps collected on a daily basis during food preparations, along with carbon-containing items from around campus, to be composted into humus, “a great natural fertilizer and planting medium,” explains Lichtenhan. “Composting allows you to recycle kitchen scraps instead of tossing them. [...] Once implemented and successful, [the initiative] can be expanded to compost all food waste.”

In Lichtenhan’s words, “composting and creating humus not only reuses waste but also cuts down on one of the more expensive parts of growing food — the fertilizers used. Humus then supplies us with organic, farm-to-table ingredients to utilize in our cooking. This for us, as chefs, is always very exciting; for the people who are enjoying the food, it is also a delight, as the fresher the ingredients are, the more nutrients they provide and the tastier they are.” 

Beyond composting, Lichtenhan noted, “the Marianapolis community is all in on sustainability and looking to expand wherever we can. [...] We strive to use all the compostable containers we can get our hands on [...] and try to minimize their use as much as possible. We started and will soon get back to a food waste tracking system to streamline what we prepare on a daily basis, so we waste as little food as possible. Last summer, Wes Howard, Director of Sustainability, and the Green Knights started to organically grow some of the herbs we use in cooking — and we would love to expand that program. [...] When vegetables and herbs are produced locally, they can be picked at peak ripeness, instead of being picked “green” to ensure they survive the shipping process. Picking at peak ripeness allows them to fully mature, which makes them fuller in flavor and nutrients, as they spend more time attached to the root, so to speak.”

For Lichtenhan, it’s clear that the growing list of sustainability initiatives, “once in place, can provide many layers of learning and enjoyment for students and faculty alike. [...] Food and the agriculture behind it will always be a big part of creating a sense of community and family.”