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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Green walls can get kids to eat green — and greens

A GRO2 GroWall is installed in a school cafeteria where they plan to grow herbs for the children’s lunches.

Kent Denver School has added to its campus an object of practical beauty and groundbreaking efficiency at a reasonable price; a space that's inviting, well-considered and righteously self-conscious. It is a model of environmental smarts, and on track to become the first school dining facility to be certified green at the highest level — known as LEED platinum, and coveted widely — from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Built for $4.5 million, the now 20,000-square-foot cafeteria aims to educate while it feeds. Students get healthy meals, but they also get a glimpse into the circular process of food production, consumption and waste recycling. There's something particularly green, and wholly appropriate, in the fact that students who pay $20,000 a year for tuition scrape their own dirty dishes into composting bins.

The lunchroom is a quarter-mile from the nearest classroom building, a considerable walk, especially in winter that is meant to force students to take a mental break during the school day. There are rewards when they arrive, including a new, healthy-options salad bar that has proven popular in the few weeks the cafeteria has been open.

Just ahead from that is an indoor “living wall," a 14-by-18 foot vertical garden where the school's chefs grow herbs used in cooking. Semple Brown Design’s Dru Schwyhart describes it as a psychic center of the room, a contemporary equivalent to the traditional hearth that mirrors the "cultural values of a new generation."

The plan calls for the planting of 100 fruit trees in the backyard. Students will tend to the trees themselves, fertilize them with compost from the lunchroom, and then harvest the apples and apricots for meals. Eat and repeat, kids.

Everything from the plumbing to the landscaping is water-efficient. And so that no one forgets all the efficiency, energy use stats will be projected in real-time on a TV monitor. It's a braggy move, but teaching requires a bit of show and tell to sink in.

The building's merits go beyond its environmental sensitivities and its abilities to serve up, in quantity, menu items such as shrimp scampi with baby carrots, Cantonese stir-fry with snow peas or mutter paneer with tofu. And they go beyond the behavior it has inspired, things like an updated, campus-wide recycling program and getting rid of lunch trays for that large reduction in landfill waste.

This content is an excerpt from The Denver Post, by Ray Mark Rinaldi. Read the full article and view photos here:

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