NMU Hoop House produce in demand

MARQUETTE — Herbs, greens and other vegetables cultivated at the Northern Michigan University Hoop House near the Jacobetti Complex are now being sold to NMU Dining Services, an area restaurant and community members. The new venture follows requests from chefs interested in using fresh, locally grown food. In addition to generating sales revenue to pump back into its operation, the NMU Hoop House will continue donating produce to its volunteers, local food banks and culinary students in training, according to a press release.

The Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences Department at NMU oversees management of the hoop house after several years of oversight by the Marquette Food Co-op.

“Having a hoop house on campus gives students, staff and community members a chance to experience the pleasure of growing and harvesting good food that doesn’t have to travel far before it is consumed,” Susy Ziegler, head of the department, said in the release. “Fresher food may be tastier and more nutritious, and not as much fossil fuel is consumed when transporting and refrigerating the produce. The first sale to Dining Services was made recently, and the Wildcat Den will feature NMU Hoop House produce in the near future.

NMU Chef Nathan Mileski wanted to add this element to the variety of locally produced food products — including BSB eggs and Superior Angus — that are now served.

DIGS Gastropub, a downtown business with alumni connections, recently used items harvested from the NMU Hoop House in its second Chef Dinner Series event. Hospitality management graduate Alex Palzewicz, the catering and events manager at DIGS, developed and prepared the vegetarian menu featuring locally sourced produce.

“The hoop house provided me with onions, several extraordinarily flavorful herbs and some plants that I used in floral arrangements,” she said. “We’ll definitely include produce from there at (today’s) NMU Hospitality Gala being held during homecoming. I don’t think people realize how difficult it is for restaurants to purvey local food. I’m always looking for smaller farms to work with for special events or to supplement normal ordering here at the restaurant and fill in when we need lettuces and herbs. It’s nice to have the NMU Hoop House as another option for that.”

Biology graduate student Rachel Ochylski coordinates activities at the hoop house. She recruits volunteers for daily watering shifts and for work sessions from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

“We’ve completed some extra side projects outside of the hoop house recently,” she said. “Last summer, we built compost bins from pallets. We take people’s food scraps, mix them with yard waste and let them decompose so we can use the material to enrich the soil in the hoop house. We started a pollinator garden of milkweed plants and flowers popular with monarch butterflies. And we have a ‘three sisters’ garden based on Native American legend. Corn, squash and beans are often planted together because they support each other’s growth and complement each other nutritionally.”

A hoop house’s primary purpose is to extend the growing season, but Ochylski said Northern’s can also serve as a resource for research, such as that related to plant ecology or diseases.

For more information or to find out about volunteer opportunities, visit https://www.facebook.com/marquettehoophouse/