Collaboration Comes Full Circle at Johns Hopkins University

Collaboration has been a key feature in Johns Hopkins University’s dining program in Baltimore.

One of the most successful programs was an ongoing chef series with cookbook author Kerry Dunnington (This Book Cooks, Planet Kitchen Table: Recipes for a Sustainable Future in Food), whose work focuses on local and sustainable themes. Kerry and Hopkins dining staff came together for a field trip to the Cylburn Arboretum to see the Center for a Livable Future’s (CLF) Aquaponics Project and learn more about two key ingredients for Kerry’s demo: tilapia and sorrel.


Tilapia, weighing up to two pounds, swim in one of the clean enclosed finishing tanks

The CLF, a research branch of the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, manages several projects that are in line with Bon Appétit’s commitment to a sustainable future, and the Aquaponics Project appears to encompass many of them. The tilapia is grown in a closed water system, which then feeds a small, floating hydroponic garden and renders waste and runoff virtually nonexistent.

As is true in many larger university communities, many Johns Hopkins undergraduate students are unaware of this amazing program. The projects exists primarily as an experiment in feasibility and education, so the administrators, Assistant Scientist Dr. David Love and Farm Manager Laura Genello, are eager to get the word out any way they can to both the university and the general public. The president of the student government association came along for the field trip, as did JHU’s Director of Dining Bill Connor, Bon Appétit Marketing Manager Andy Tzortzinis, Director of Operations Gary Rehaut, and Kerry.

After the facility tour, Kerry and the Bon Appétit group purchased 8 pounds of fresh sorrel from the floating garden and 20 pounds of fresh tilapia from the tanks. Kerry was so impressed with the venture that she ended the tour in a state of “giddy wonderment—the idea that a university the size of Hopkins is operating a successful aquaponics program is remarkable,” she said.

For Kerry’s pop-up event, one meal swipe got students a hearty tilapia chowder or her sorrel salad demo with arugula and baby spinach, dressed with blue cheese, sliced apple, a classic Dijon vinaigrette, and a savory-sweet (thanks to garlic and honey) oatmeal-granola topping.

Assistant Scientist Dr. David Love prepares to reach over the aquaponics’ floating garden beds to pluck some fresh greens.

Assistant Scientist Dr. David Love prepares to reach over the aquaponics’ floating garden beds to pluck some fresh greens.

The students loved the offerings, and several commented that the pop-up station option offered a great healthy alternative meal tailored to their budgets and schedules. The entire event was rewarding: Some students returned for a second meal swipe, and the team from the Aquaponics Project got to witness the excitement and answer questions after the demo.

“To be able to share this work, and to turn the harvest into a meal for the students was pure synergy,” exclaimed Kerry.

Submitted by Andy Tzortzinis, Marketing Manager, and Kerry Dunnington, Guest Chef