Students of Executive Chef Mark Sandoval are used to getting their hands dirty. But this time, it’s in the garden, not the kitchen.
Sandoval’s team from the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration is just one of many groups on campus taking advantage of UNLV’s Community Garden, located adjacent to the UNLV recycle center east of the Stan Fulton Building.
In 2014, the UNLV School of Architecture partnered with the Service Learning Department to establish the community garden, with the UNLV Facilities Management and Planning and Construction departments leading the construction.
In addition to a composting area and space for social gatherings, the garden offers 39 raised planters to faculty and students each semester for research, class presentations, events, and various special projects.
“The garden is essential on campus for fostering a sense of community, as well as teaching the vital life skills of knowing how to grow healthy food,” said Elissa Lafraconi, community garden researcher. “It’s also part of UNLV’s growing efforts of promoting a culture of sustainability and stewardship of our environment.”
Sandoval reserves two planters in the garden every semester and regularly invites his students out to water the plants, pull weeds, and harvest produce. This involvement allows his students to understand where food comes from and how it’s grown.
“Being in the community garden gets people interested in agriculture and the farm-to-table movement,” he said. “There’s a growing trend for finding better ways to farm sustainably, and I think this generation would be the people to do that.”
Already an avid gardener, Harrah College student Jacob Budisantoso continues to volunteer in the community garden to hone his planting and harvesting techniques.
"I've learned that picking plants at different times will change the taste and look of the meal," he said. "I want to get into this field of culinary, so coming to the garden allows me to experiment and be more knowledgeable about growing food."
With regular visits to the garden, Sandoval and his students are able to design their menus around what’s ready for harvest. They recently planted leeks, beets, carrots, and Swiss chard for an event in May.
“Everything I do and take on is done with the motivation to provide students with real life experience so they can go out into the industry and land jobs easily,” Sandoval said. “I get so much participation from these students, and I have the utmost respect for them because it’s all done on their own time.”