By Molly Burke
Youngstown State University’s Student Government Association is creating a student-run garden in the Sandy Simon Greenhouse of Ward Beecher Hall to provide fresh produce to the Penguin Pantry. The project began this fall and it’s expected to be ready by spring 2024.
Located on the first floor of Cushwa Hall, the Penguin Pantry is run by the Office of the Dean of Students to extend free resources like food, hygiene products and clothing to all students, faculty and staff. However, the pantry has never had a sustainable source of produce.
Jordan Pintar, executive vice president of SGA, said the garden will help combat food insecurity on campus by providing the pantry with produce it has always lacked.
“We wanted to find ways that we could bring healthy foods to campus. One of the ways we can do that is through our [Penguin Pantry and] helping with this garden. We saw a space in the greenhouse [and] we wanted to be able to give back to the students,” Pintar said.
Pintar said the garden can also help students facing food insecurity by teaching them about growing food.
“Being student-run, we want to introduce students to growing food, growing food sustainability [and] doing that in a way that provides sustainable practices,” Pintar said.
The garden will use hydroponic technology to grow fruits and vegetables. Pintar said SGA has asked for a $5,000 grant to buy hydroponic towers from the brand Lettuce Grow.
“[Lettuce Grow] is super great because they work with schools and universities to provide these products, so we’re able to get an educational discount through there,” Pintar said. “We’re looking at getting three towers, which are four to five feet in height. They have 24 seedlings each.”
Ian Renne, associate professor of ecology and coordinator of the Sandy Simon Greenhouse, explained how hydroponic gardening works.
“Hydroponics is growing plants without soil. It’s amazing how few factors plants need to grow. They need essential elements: nitrogen, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium [and] sulfur,” Renne said. “They need some micronutrients also, light and water.”
The Penguin Pantry will be moved to the third floor of DeBartolo Hall in the spring. Dean of Students and Ombudsperson Nicole Kent-Strollo said as it makes the move, refrigeration will be required for the produce.
“We have written a couple grants where we’re looking for some funds to get that refrigerator because it is going to be really important if we’re going to be growing things that we have a place to store it,” Kent-Strollo said.
Former YSU student, Moe Prather, took a medical leave from the university after four semesters, with one reason being food insecurity. Prather said if the Penguin Pantry had produce available before leaving, it would have been easier to stay.
“When you don’t have access to a lot of food or good healthy food, your body starts to deteriorate like an old car,” Prather said. “If it was there while I was there, it probably would’ve kept me there.”
The Penguin Pantry is open Mondays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m., Tuesdays 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2 p.m., and Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m and 3 to 5 p.m. Anyone who needs to access it outside of business hours can contact the Office of the Dean of Students for assistance.