Follow That Lettuce

Sep 242008
Authors: Madeline Novey

Most Fort Collins residents can ride their bikes to campus without the hoards of daily commuters thinking anything of it. Horticulturist Meghan Oren is different.

At 10:30 every Monday morning, her bike isn’t laden with books, a backpack or morning coffee — it’s piled high with lettuce.

“I’m the biker,” Oren said. “We get a lot of strange looks in a good way, mostly because we have a large wooden cart attached to the backs of the bikes, and I think people think we’re a delivery service.”

Oren is a groundskeeper for Facilities Management, and the lettuce she’s transporting is a mixture of some fifteen delicate and unique varieties of it — all “carbon neutral,” freshly grown and harvested in a greenhouse on campus. And all of it goes to the Aspen Grille.

The Aspen Grille, located in the University Club on the upper-level of the Lory Student Center, is one of only two fully green-certified restaurants in the state. The second is the Spruce Saddle Lodge at Beaver Creek Resort nestled high in the Rocky Mountains.

Each semester, 28 to 30 students in the Resort and Restaurant Management program run the grille as part of a four-credit elective lab within the program. Ken Smith and Bill Franz, professors in the Restaurant and Resort Management program, act as the instructors.

The grille always had green inclinations since it opened five years ago and was certified by the Green Restaurant Association in August. It is one of four “green” university or college restaurants.

The GRA is a non-profit organization that provides opportunities and ideas for all divisions of the restaurant industry “to become more environmentally sustainable,” according to their Web site.

Along the way, some students with the restaurant had the idea that the local food could be even more local by growing it on campus and that way, the restaurant could be a little more green.

In June, Smith, along with two students, Erin Falloon, senior restaurant and resort management major and Andrea Doggett, senior nutrition major, decided to grow their own selection of crops to be served at the restaurant.

To plant their first crops — —- the lettuce transported by Oren — the team collaborated with students and faculty in the Specialty Crops Program in College of Agricultural Sciences. In the earliest stages, 20 varieties of diverse “carbon neutral” lettuces took root in a greenhouse at the CSU Plant and Environment Research Center located on Lake Street.

Because the project is still new, the crops are small and yield limited amounts of lettuce, which are primarily used in the Aspen Grille Salad or occasionally as a garnish on burgers and sandwiches.

To continue to color itself as environmentally conscious, the restaurant implemented several green initiatives starting in July, which included:

Energy efficient grill maintenance, which entails constant adjustment and fine-tuning of equipment. The use of environmentally friendly detergents, soaps, cleaners and degreasers distributed by the Clean Environment Co. Inc. (animal cruelty free and biodegradable)Low-flow sink faucets.

The use of 100 percent post-consumer recycled and chlorine-free paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for the menus. The FSC paper certification allows the consumer to track the paper through each production stage to certify that it is recycled according to specific standards.

In addition to the campus-grown greens, the restaurant gets its vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, pork and lamb from local farms and ranchers. The beef served in the restaurant is raised and delivered by a ranch in Niwot, owned by CSU graduates along with “socially conscious” coffee roasted by Café Richesse, also owned by CSU alumnus.

Smith said the restaurant wants to pursue six to 10 environmental initiatives in the future, one of which is the change to organic bamboo or hemp-based uniforms.

“Going green was a natural progression,” Smith said. “The idea to be a sustainable restaurant in support of local producers is a key principle and the changes made to go green tied into the green initiatives at CSU.”

The restaurant is open to the public, and students can pay using convenience cash.

“The Aspen Grille is open for students, open to the community and open to the public,” Smith said.

The restaurant continues to tie in with CSU’s green initiatives, and Oren’s silver, single-speed, three-wheel cruiser adds to the eco-friendly feeling.

Staff writer Madeline Novey can be reached at

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