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College Garden Spices Up Culinary Studies

NORWALK, Conn. – Chef Jeff Trombetta had some words of advice for his Norwalk Community College culinary students Wednesday morning as he held up a habanero pepper for all to see. "These are hot," he said. "These have 10,000 Scoville units . This is 10 times hotter than a jalapeno. Scoville units are a measure of capsaicin ... pick out a bunch of these because we can preserve them. We don't want them to go to waste."

Trombetta was standing in Norwalk Community College's latest garden, part of "A Growing Concern," the organic farming effort on campus that complements the "Recycle, Reuse and Grow" of NCC Cares, a college-wide committee. Much of the fertilizer for the garden comes from under a white shed, where worms work to decompose refuse from the cafeteria, their castings later made into a tea for the plants. There is also compost donated by the New Canaan Department of Public Works.

Professor Jonathan McMenamin-Balano began the program three years ago. "What we're doing is strategically taking parcels of land around the campus and providing opportunities for students," he said. An "amazing" number of his environmental science students volunteer to work in the garden. "It's modeled on other college farming concerns," he said. Because of construction at the school, the site of the garden has moved from time to time.

Trombetta's students were on their first foray into the garden, after basic lessons during their first culinary classes. The day's studies included the peppery taste of nasturtium flowers, which decorate salads and plates.

Moises Salaman moved to America 10 years ago from Haiti, where his family had a big farm. "This is pretty cool," he said. It was all new to Alexandra Diaz. "My grandmother gardens," she said, "but I don't garden."

Melissa Slattery, an NCC publicity person, said garden plants are used throughout the school year, some used to make sauces and preserves. She said, "We're able to do it from right through the back door, basically."

You can email reporter Nancy Chapman at nchapman@thedailynorwalk.com.

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