TSTC Boasts a Unique Grow and Go Food Partnership

(HARLINGEN) – Recently, Texas State Technical College Culinary Arts students joined Agricultural Technology students at their on-campus greenhouse to harvest eggplants to be prepared and cooked by the up and coming chefs.

Using the latest technology to grow vegetables and fruits, instructors and students from both programs have partnered to give the students and the TSTC community the farm-to-table experience.

The idea for this joint venture came from TSTC’s Associate Vice President of Instructional Support Nicki Cone and Vice President of Instructional Support Hector Yanez.

“This project serves a variety of purposes,” said Cone. “The collaboration between two departments helps to educate the faculty concerning real-world applications. This expansion of knowledge will help to develop curriculum that better suits our industry, while giving our students a more well-rounded, innovative approach to their course work.”

Culinary Arts Instructor Emma Creps and Agricultural Technology Instructor Sammy Gavito both agree they were instantly excited with the idea of working together to give their students different perspectives ofTSTC Agricultural Technology and Culinary Arts the food business.

“We recognize that a growing trend in the food industry is farm to table,” said Gavito. “So it’s important that we prepare our students to face this in the workforce.”

With initial success, Gavito’s Horticulture class and instructor Norberto Mendoza’s Crop Science class will be expanding the project, growing new crops that will be used by Culinary Arts students.

Mendoza plans to use a traditional 30-acre field located on Loop 499 and Rio Hondo Rd. in Harlingen to grow corn, while Gavito’s class will use aeroponics, the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil using tower gardens, and aquaponics – an aquaculture system that uses the waste produced by farmed fish to supply nutrients to the plants.

The class will have access to eight tower gardens and one new aquaponics system to grow fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, melons, watermelons, peppers, eggplants and zucchinis.

All the farm fish from the aquaponics system will also be given to culinary to use.

“This is very exciting for me. This is exactly the type of business I want to get into when I graduate,” said Michelle Jacobson, TSTC Agricultural Technology student. “It’s great that I’m going to get this type of experience while still in school.”

Jacobson’s classmate, Irene Loya, added this experience is especially beneficial for her because she currently owns and is preparing five acres of land, with the help of the United States Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, for specialized crops.

“The connections in the classroom that I get to make to my real life are invaluable,” she said. “As students we all get to help each other learn and become better at what we do.”

Creps, while in the kitchen with her students as they cooked the eggplants they had harvested, said this project also brings a lot of benefits to her classroom and cooking labs.

“I personally wish this partnership had started sooner,” she said. “We’re always looking for new learning opportunities for our students and this gives them the chance to see the process and challenges of where our fruits and vegetables come from.”

TSTC Agricultural Technology and Culinary Arts

Crepes also added that it saves her department money and gives the TSTC community and visitors fresh food to enjoy when her students cook for banquets and special events.

“With this partnership we get only what we need when we need it,” said Crepes. “There’s no need to get extra to save trips to the grocery store and risking that it’ll go to waste, and there is no substituting the freshness you get with farm to table.”

Crepes’ student Diego Ramirez, who is graduating in August and has already signed a contract as a culinary teacher with La Feria High School, said he wishes the project had started sooner as well so he could enjoy it more.

“What I have done so far has been a great experience. I have learned so much,” said Ramirez. “I hope to carry what I have learned from this project into my classroom at the high school.”

Cone said the ultimate goal is to see an increase in student success and cultivate a higher level of critical thinking and problem solving skills. She added students will also see an increase in awareness of the world around them, in socialization, efficiency and productivity.

“We expect to see higher retention rates and greater student satisfaction,” she said. “The cross functional collaboration between these programs will create a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. We hope to begin partnerships similar to this between other programs on our campus. This is just the beginning.”

Culinary Arts is offered at TSTC’s Abilene, Waco, Williamson County and Harlingen campuses.

For more information or to register for Fall 2017 call 956-364-4755 or visit tstc.edu.