When UW-Madison student Hannah DePorter saw surplus produce from the horticultural research farms headed to the compost pile, she knew there had to be a better way to use it.
And now there is.
The UW Campus Food Shed — actually four refrigerators at four campus locations — began offering free produce to UW students, faculty and staff on Friday.
Produce from the research farms and student-run F.H. King Farm will be available at the Student Activity Center, 333 E. Campus Mall; Centennial Garden, 620 Babcock Drive; Science Hall, 550 N. Park St.; and the Horticultural Department, 1575 Linden Drive, anytime those buildings are open.
The Food Shed Facebook page will post details of what will be available and when.
DePorter recalled Friday seeing the surplus beets, carrots and onions left unharvested at the research farm where she worked last summer.
“There was a lot left in the fields,” she said.
DePorter, a Chicago native who will be a senior in the fall, said she had never gardened until joining the Greenhouse Learning Community as a freshman.
“I fell in love with it; watching something so small grow into something so beautiful,” she said. Growing food sharpened her appreciation of the power of knowing where food comes from — and then there is taste.
“There’s nothing like eating something fresh from the farm,” she said.
DePorter started brainstorming on how to bring the produce to others. Then with the help of Professor Irwin Goldman, she obtained a $5,000 grant from the Kemper K. Knapp Bequest to buy the refrigerators.
The goals of the program are to reduce waste and promote food security for people in the campus community who struggle to maintain access to healthful, affordable food.
Goldman said at a brief ceremony marking the opening of the Food Shed that surplus vegetables had overflowed in the hallways of the horticultural department for years — there for the taking. But it took a student to devise a more systematic way of distributing it.
“We have so many bright students who figure out ways to make campus, and the world, a better place,” he said.
Thirty or more students and staff lined up Friday to raid the refrigerator at the Student Activity Center stocked with organic lettuce, rhubarb, beets and beet greens, radishes, snap beans, dill, chives, oregano and fennel.
“The produce looks really fresh and nice, so I’m excited to try it,” said Prerna Jain, a summer intern from India in the biomolecular chemistry lab.
Later in the summer, the program is likely to have squash, carrots, kale, cucumbers, chard, tomatoes and potatoes, organizers said.
Just how much produce may be given away through the program is hard to predict, Goldman said. It depends on how the growing season goes and how much of various crops are needed for research.
“But I’m sure it will be in the thousands of pounds,” he said.