Homegrown Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide

By Jolee Keplinger |September 21, 2022

As a recent graduate, I am always looking for ways to connect to the local food system in Raleigh, NC. I’ve visited various farmer’s markets, and have started growing my own food, aka, a tiny herb garden on my apartment balcony. I dream of having a house with a garden one day, but for now, I enjoy caring for a small collection of apartment-friendly herbs and plants. Growing herbs has been especially rewarding, since they have a variety of culinary uses, and nutritional benefits.

Recipe Inspiration: Homemade waffle with feta cheese, kalamata olives, and fresh basil

From a sustainability standpoint, growing your own herbs can help reduce plastic waste, since fresh herbs at the grocery store are typically packaged in plastic containers, shipped from many miles away. Even though it’s a small impact in the broader scheme of things, the act of growing edible plants feels meaningful, and it can lead one to feel inspired to take on new challenges, such as growing vegetables, or starting a community garden.

The planters pictured here are self watering, and a huge help during the hot summer months. I ordered these from Amazon.

I started my herb growing journey in 2021 with a basil plant I purchased from Trader Joe’s. Yes, I could have just planted seeds like a normal gardener, but I thought it would be nice to re-pot the plant in my herb planter and immediately have a thriving basil plant without needing to wait for the seeds to germinate. Shortly after my basil purchase, I found a set of four herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil, and mint) at Costco. I re-potted them in my herb planters, and had a nice collection of herbs to enjoy. The thyme didn’t survive, but the others did well. I especially loved having fresh rosemary to use for a roasted sweet potato recipe!

In 2022 I moved from New Hampshire down to North Carolina, and needed to leave my plants behind. As soon as I was settled in my new space, I started a new mini herb garden, and it has been successful since! This time, I started with basil, oregano, mint and thyme. The thyme didn’t survive (again!) so I just added more mint. The herbs LOVED the summer heat and humidity (me, not so much).

The highlight of my herb-growing journey happened when my basil plant exploded during the summer, and provided enough leaves to harvest for homemade pesto. It’s a strange feeling having to harvest so much of a big, beautiful plant, but I had to keep telling myself that it was actually beneficial for its future growth. I harvested the basil stems and got to work in the kitchen.

I pulled up a simple basil recipe online, but I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand. I decided to just go for it anyway, and substitute walnuts for the pine nuts that are traditionally used in pesto. I didn’t have parmesan cheese, used sharp white cheddar and hoped that the two ingredient substitutions wouldn’t throw off the flavor too much. I kept everything else in the recipe the same, and the pesto was delicious!

Here is the pesto recipe I referenced when making my own version. You will be surprised at how much basil is needed to make two packed cups! As mentioned in the recipe, you can substitute one cup of packed spinach if needed.

Making my first homegrown basil was the most satisfying experience. I really appreciated it, knowing that I would need to wait a period of time to have enough basil to harvest again. As I am writing this, it’s been about a month since the pesto harvest, and I am contemplating whether to do another before the weather cools down.

Based on my two short years of experience, I would definitely recommend taking on the challenge of homegrown herbs as a way to connect with your food. I think it’s the perfect way for recent graduates to enter the world of gardening, especially for those living in apartments with balconies. Also, if you are not a pet owner (like myself), caring for plants can help fill the need for wanting to care for something other than yourself.

Happy gardening!

Principia Campus’ West Quad 100 Year Old Apple Tree Orchard

Nadja’s Fall ’21 apple haul!

By Nadja Peschke |March 30, 2022 Principia Center for Sustainability Special Projects Officer

It came to my surprise my Sophomore year, how few students and professors knew about the West Quad apple orchard. Every time I walked from the concourse to my dorm or Voney studio, I stopped to marvel at the wealth of ripe apples suspended in the sunshine above my head. I would snag the apple picker from Howard House’s porch (thank you, Kemi!) and pick apples while other students receded back to their rooms for an afternoon nap or homework session. It felt like stealing gold.  

Jonafree Canopy Fall ’21
Senior, Sophie Hills holding our pickings!

The juicy weight of the fruit sagged the branches so low that my 5’ 3” frame could snag a snack and be on my way. It was my Eden when the Red Delicious apples shipped from the industrial orchards of Washington State to the Scramble Room just didn’t taste right. Did you know that “Red Delicious” is not a naturally derived apple variety? It was created in a lab to be a productive monocrop. Consequently, it’s pretty flavorless compared to our campus Jonafree apples.  

I made an effort to bring my friend circle into the bounty. We would pick a box full and make applesauce, or keep the apples in a cold spot in our rooms to enjoy for weeks on end. The taste was tart, sweet, the texture was crisp, the sound of a bite was snappy. I grew a habit of always having two in my tote bag, one for me and one to share. My little Johnny Appleseed act still wasn’t enough to get all students on board, some even seemed dubious that they were edible! This caused me to wonder how our society came to trust fruit in a basket more than fruit in the fresh air? I digress.  

Pruned Tree Blossoming in April ’22

Senior year, I once again looked forward to this early fall treat but was greeted with tired trees, yellowing leaves, and more rot than apple. How did this happen? According to pomologists, pom (fruit bearing) trees need to be trimmed and maintained. A lot of orchardists share a phrase that the trees’ branches should allow a cat to be tossed straight through the canopy without touching a branch!  

Reflecting on the scraggly, tangled limbs I immediately knew the year’s pickings had something to do with the maintenance of our beloved trees. The extra limbs were stealing energy from the possible production of fruits. These limbs start as vertical growing twigs called watershoots, or suckers, and if not groomed from the start they become mature branches that make a bushy canopy. Some of the trees on campus I even call willow apples because they sag so low with watershoots. 

advertisement by Carly Hendrickson

During February and March 2022 I led a pruning crew to help our apples thrive in 2023. Here are a few tips from Dr. Chrissy McAllister, bio professor, who met me to discuss pruning. It turns out that there are three stages to pruning a tree: Clean Up, Thinning Out, and Shaping; 

  1. Clean Up consists of noting dead vs dormant branches and twigs. To do this you very gently scrape the bark away and if it’s green it’s alive … and if it’s brittle and brown, likely that limb is dead. This might also be easy to tell by sight, in that many diseased or damaged limbs have visible decay or breakages. Branches damaged from weather, animal rubbing, or other influences should be assessed for pruning so the tree can heal.  
  2. To Thin Out the tree, check for the culprit: watersprouts. These are new growth that grows at a 90- degree angle out of a branch or by the base of a tree. In the trees on our Quad, watersprouts had grown for years so they were heavy, thick and piercing straight through the branches to the sky. To properly remove them, we had to carefully saw or clip them off flush to the host branch collar at a 10 or 2 o’ clock angle. This ensures a smooth surface for the tree to heal over. Remember, leave no stumps on the branches!  
  3. The Shaping portion is easier with younger trees, this allows the choice of how the tree will grow. An apple tree should have a broad canopy that reaches out more than up. Trimming the branches out of reach ensures more apples where we can pick and enjoy!  

At most, only about 20% of a tree should be pruned a season. Watch out not to cut branches with abundant spurs, these are the pointed buds that will blossom and become the fruit. But the more you remove distracting or unhealthy limbs the more you can direct a tree’s energy to be fruitful. Ultimately, you can’t hurt the tree by following these tips! This is a yearly maintenance for most fruit trees like pears, peaches, and plums. Always double check with a trusted source for your type of fruit tree but tending to them is responsible and ensures the longevity of your trees.  

watercolor inspired by the Jonafree Apple Trees on Campus, painted by Nadja Peschke Fall 2020

The orchard has blessed our Principia community for nearly 100 years, and by tenderly caring for it – and enjoying its bounty! – on an annual basis, this beautiful grove will continue to bless students with new skills and many tasty apples as our orchard grows. Next fall when you walk through the Quad, take a seat on the new benches we added in the quad to breath in the beauty of the orchard, birdsong and pick a few apples. If you’d like to get involved in orchard care, contact the college’s Center for Sustainability! 

Pruning Crew March 2022 !

All Photos Credited to Nadja Peschke.

An Eco-Conscious Guide for Holiday Dinners

By Jolee Keplinger |November 27, 2020
Principia Center for Sustainability
Special Projects Officer

The holiday season is known to be stressful, making it easy for sustainability to be a second thought, but preparing holiday food is a tradition that isn’t going away. If you haven’t already, not is a wonderful time to incorporate some eco-friendly habits into your routine. This guide will explain a few ways you can postively impact the planet this holiday season.

Shop Local, Reduce Waste: When shopping for produce, I find it easiest to reduce packaging waste by visiting a local farm stand. (If you live near Elsah, IL, I highly recommend Three Rivers Community Farm.) Most of the produce is unpackaged, so customers either use the plastic bags provided or bring their own. I try to come prepared with reusable produce bags and shopping bags. Certain foods, such as carrot bunches and spinach, come prepackaged in plastic bags, so those are added to my plastic bag stash for the grocery store’s recycling collection.

If you want to see what markets are in your area, you can type your zip code into the USDA’s Local Food Directory. I tested it out, and I noticed some of the markets I visit did not show up. It’s still worth checking out if you are unfamiliar with your local market scene.

Of course, as the holidays approach, most farmer’s markets are ending their season. Farmer’s markets may not be an option this time of year, you can still step up your sustainability game.

Grocery Store Shopping: Most of us will probably need to shop for holiday dinner staples at the grocery store. Unfortunately can be difficult to avoid ingredients packed in single-use and non-recyclable packaging. Fortunately, some grocery stores, such as Trader Joe’s, are committed to reducing and removing the packaging. They replaced styrofoam meat and produce trays with biodegradable alternatives. They even replaced their clear plastic produce bags with a green compostable version (unfortunately they can only be composted industrially, not in your backyard). They’re far from perfect, but appear to be more ecologically conscious than the average store. You can research the sustainability commitments for your favorite grocery stores, and strive to shop at the one that clearly demonstrates a commitment to sustainable practices.

Minimizing Plastic Waste: Simply skip the plastic turkey bag. I’ve grown up with Thanksgiving turkey cooked in “the bag”. After seeing the family turkey being prepared this way, each year I thought I’d research some more eco-conscious alternatives.

  1. The brand If You Care makes compostable bags with FSC-certified paper. This may be one only parchment roasting bag on the market.
  2. This Martha Stewart recipe will explain how to make a delicious roasted turkey with just regular parchment paper. Fortunately, becoming more common to find compostable parchment paper. For example, I found a roll by Reynold’s at my local target.
  3. You can also learn to cook a turkey without a bag (click for Livestrong article).

Reducing Leftover Food Waste: Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner leftovers can get boring. It may be tempting to toss them after back to back leftover-filled lunches and dinners. (It’s also important to eat up your leftovers within a few days, to reduce the risk of harmful bacterial growth.) The easiest strategy is to simply freeze what you know you won’t eat within 3-4 days.

Be prepared with reusable freezer bags, brands such as Russbe and Stasher, so you will have an easier time fitting them into the freezer. Try to skip the single-use Ziploc bags, but if you do have them, you can hand wash, dry, and reuse them many times, but read this article to make sure this is done safely.

Purchasing Checklist:

  • Create a shopping list and plan to buy what you need. Estimate the number of dinner guests, and decide which recipes you will make, and how many servings.
  • Research farmer’s markets/farm stands in your area. It’s perfect for finding seasonal produce and even free-range meats.
  • Before leaving to shop, remember to bring your own reusable shopping bags. And don’t forget to clean the bags! If bags are cloth, they may be machine washable, and non-cloth bags with a smooth surface can be sprayed and wiped down. Mesh produce bags, such as Earthwise, are also machine washable. They are also great for many other uses, such as organizing small items in luggage.
  • Have a plan for leftover food storage. Purchase reusable food storage bags and storage containers if you can afford them. Opt for dishwasher-safe to save washing time. If you don’t own glass food storage containers, now is the perfect time to upgrade your Tupperware. Glass containers are more durable than plastic, they can withstand high heat, and they can also be used for serving. (This means fewer dishes to wash, yay!)
  • If you have friends or family that would be open to using the reusable products listed above, you may as well add them to your Christmas shopping list. This is a great way to spread the holiday spirit with a sustainable twist.

Happy holidays!

Menus of Change Leadership Summit: Week One Recap

By Jolee Keplinger |August 5, 2020
Principia Center for Sustainability
Special Projects Officer

This summer, the Culinary Institute of America offered its Menus of Change® summit fully online due to COVID-19. This allowed me to attend the sessions while working from home in Florida, and apply the knowledge I gained to Principia College’s food system. This online summit provided valuable content that is relevant to Principia’s food scene during the unusual COVID-19 landscape.

Menus of Change focuses on The Business of Healthy, Sustainable, Delicious Food Choices. This summit works to realize a long-term, practical vision which integrates optimal nutrition and public health, environmental stewardship and restoration, and social responsibility concerns surrounding food. In other words, it fully addresses the triple bottom line of sustainability (people, planet, and profit). Plant-forward food is a major focus, and a new term you will probably notice in the future.

What is Plant-Forward Eating?

The 2018 Menus of Change Annual Report, defines “plant-forward” as: a style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, plant-based foods—including fruits and vegetables (produce); whole grains; beans, legumes (pulses), and soy foods; nuts and seeds; plant oils; and herbs and spices—and that reflects evidence-based principles of health and sustainability.

Ways of Eating and Identity

Remember the time when people identified as either omnivores, vegetarians, or vegans? While this can still be the case, food identities are changing. Identities are going beyond extreme/binary nouns and toward more dynamic verbs such as a “flexitarian”, “climatarian” or “reducetarian“. Plant-forward eating encompasses many of these new eating identities without being restrictive and exclusive.

Remaining Focused on Long Term Goals

The disruption of COVID-19 can be distracting when working toward a more sustainable food system, especially when dealing with long-term issues like climate change. Menus of Change emphasized the importance of keeping up with critical goals, such as the reduction of greenhouse gasses across the food system. Food is a highly important tool when navigating the complex world of GHG reduction because everyone is dependent on it, and it’s a major way humans connect with one another.

Food can be viewed as a root for creating awareness. Chefs and the art of cooking can tell a story and shed light on how the food we eat directly affects the environment. Chefs use food to enter people’s minds and hearts, so they have the ability to emphasize climate-friendly foods and move the food system in a positive direction!

Learn More

Click here to learn about how the Center for Sustainability is advocating for sustainable food!

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health provides an array of relevant information related to this post.

DIY Açaí Bowl

By Jolee Keplinger | June 25, 2020
Principia Center for Sustainability
Special Projects Officer

This isn’t your average açaí recipe! The unexpected ingredient is cricket protein powder. Cricket protein is an up-and-coming superfood that can easily be incorporated into your summertime smoothies. You can purchase this protein powder from Mighty Cricket, a local and sustainable food startup based in St. Louis. Click here to learn more about cricket protein on the blog.


  • 1 ripe banana (frozen)
  • ½ cup frozen strawberries and blueberries
  •  1/3 to ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tbsp Mighty Cricket Protein Powder
  • 1 tbsp nut/seed butter
  • 1 tbsp acai powder

Optional additions

  • 1/4 tsp maca powder
  • 1/4 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp moringa powder
  • fresh grated nutmeg

Topping ideas:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Muesli
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Bee pollen
  • Full fat coconut milk or cream


1. Place all base ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

2. Pour into a small bowl.

3. Sprinkle on desired toppings. Drizzle with full fat coconut milk or cream.

4. Artfully sprinkle on desired toppings.

5. Bonus: Visit @MightyCricketCo on Instagram to learn more creative ways for incorporating cricket protein into your sustainable lifestyle!

Oat Bar Recipe + A Sustainable Sugar Swap

By Jolee Keplinger | June 14, 2020
Principia Center for Sustainability
Special Projects Officer

This healthy & tasty recipe was submitted by community member Pam Fox, who works part time at Principia College’s C-Store. Pam is a plant-based food enthusiast who often shares her favorite recipes with me. Recently, she sent me an oat bar recipe which I made shortly after settling in for summer in my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida. Although I’m busy balancing three jobs and a nutrition course, I always make time for creativity in the kitchen. I specifically made these bars to take with me as a snack for my work at Browns Kitchen, a local gourmet kitchen shop!

Modified Oat Bar Recipe

Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes | Makes 12 bars


  • 2/3 cup chopped pitted dates (reserve 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp nut or seed butter (I used almond butter)
  • 1 1/4 cup quick oats
  • 1/2 cup flour of choice (I used arrowroot flour)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit of choice (such as cherries, apricot, prunes, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup add-ins of choice (such as chocolate chips, coconut flakes, seeds, or nuts)
  • Optional Ingredients
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp maca powder
  • Fresh ground nutmeg to taste

Notes: I used dates as my dried fruit of choice since I did not have others on hand. My add-ins were unsweetened coconut flakes and pumpkin seeds.


  1. Preheat oven to 375o.
  2. Place 1/3 cup of chopped dates and water into a blender and process until smooth.  Add the nut butter, process again, and set aside. 
  3. In a medium bowl combine the remaining ingredients, except the reserved dates, dried fruit of choice, and add-ins. 
  4. Add the mixture from the blender and the remaining dates, dried fruit and add-ins of choice and mix with a spoon.
  5. Spread mixture into an 8 x 8 baking pan and either spray with oil or line with parchment paper. Bake until firm and lightly brown around the edges, 18-20 minutes. 
  6. Cool in the pan, then loosen edges and invert entire pan over a flat platter. (If using parchment paper, pull the bars out of the pan using the paper edges and place on a cooling rack). 
  7. Cut into about 12 bars & enjoy!

Tips: I store the in the refrigerator to keep them fresh longer. They taste best reheated slightly in a toaster oven. You can also crumble them up and sprinkle on top of yogurt or eat them like cereal with milk.

I like to use this reusable to-go box for storing baked goods. This is a sample product from AASHE, an annual conference for sustainability in higher education. This container is made by OZZI, a company which specializes in reusable container exchange systems.

Fun Fact: 100% Plant-Based Ingredients!

What I love about this recipe is that it’s completely plant-based, so it’s perfect for those who follow a plant-forward and vegan diets. Plant-based styles of eating are often less ecologically intensive when compared to the Standard American Diet. This is because plant-based foods require fewer resources to produce (in many cases) versus animal products which are often highly resource intensive and polluting (especially when produced industrially).

Now, to get specific, not all plant-based foods are good. For instance, refined sugar, which is plant-derived, is definitely a food you want to avoid for both environmental and health reasons. Below are some reasons why I prefer to avoid refined sugars. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I replace refined sugars with natural and eco-friendly foods such as dried dates.

Opt for Organic

Since I am now 90% in control of my food intake, I’ve made a point to purchase mainly organic ingredients. It can be more expensive, but I’ve been purchasing many in bulk at Costco so I end up saving more than I would at the typical grocery store. I also like to purchase smaller amounts organic products at Farmer’s Markets, Trader Joe’s and Aldi. (Although I don’t enjoy shopping at Walmart, I’ll admit that they do have a selection of affordable organic ingredients as well.)

I opt for mostly organic ingredients because they are often more environmentally friendly than conventionally grown or raised foods. I also do not like the idea of harsh chemicals being sprayed on my food, and not knowing what chemicals I am consuming. Organic food is not always completely chemical-free, but it’s a widely available option for promoting optimal environmental and human health.

Sustainable Sugar? Switch from Cane Sugar to Dates!

  • Did you know that sugar cane production is a major environmental catastrophe in Florida? Click here for the article to learn more (Tampa Bay Times).
  • Have you always dreamed of seeing the Great Barrier Reef? Unfortunately, sugar farms in Australia are contributing to the reef’s decline. Waters around the reefs suffer from effluents, pesticides, and sediment from sugar farms, in addition to the wetlands that have been cleared. Read more at thought.co.

You have the power to make a difference! You can skip the refined sugar and use dates to satisfy your sweet tooth. Dates contain plenty of nutrients, fiber and antioxidants. They make delicious stand-alone sweet treats, and are incredibly versatile ingredients. Date sugar, made from finely chopped dehydrated dates, is a great option if you are looking for a sweetener (similar to cane sugar) that has gone through minimal processing.

In contrast, refined sugars are considered empty calories since they contain virtually no vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, fiber, or other beneficial compounds. Nutrient-dense foods are both energizing and satisfying, so it makes sense to replace refined sugars with naturally sweet and nutrient-dense whole foods (like dried dates)!

Sustainability Spotlight

Most dates are grown in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, and properly managed and well-tended date trees can live up to 150 years! The trees can withstand long periods of drought under high temperatures, but do require large amounts of water. Despite the high water footprint, many date farmers in traditional production areas use sustainable practices such as natural fertilizers, cover crops, and intercropping-often with other fruits, vegetables and pasture (Foodprint.org).

  • Ecological Lens: Date palm groves are important environmental niches for local wildlife and play a central role in the desert ecological system.
  • Date palms have been effective for the control of desertification and land reclamation in the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Locavore Lens: Since date sugar is mostly produced in North Africa and the Middle East, finding locally produced varieties may be difficult for American consumers. To help offset the food miles, you can look for organic options. This ensures that no harmful pesticides or other chemicals were used during production.
  • If you want a challenge, you can buy some whole organic dates and make your own!

If you make the oat bar recipe and would like to share your thoughts or modifications, please respond in the comments section! Thank you for reading. You may suggest future article ideas as well. Happy baking!

The Green Roof: A Past Capstone Project and Current Community Space

By Jolee Keplinger | June 11, 2020
Principia Center for Sustainability
Special Projects Officer

On the top of the science center above the Information Technology Department is a hidden gem that has existed for just a few years. It’s an excellent place to relax, use your green thumb, and support campus-grown food. 


The garden was started by Principia alumnus Jeff Lewis. This idea sprung up after Jeff participated in the Urban Harvest STL internship program. Urban Harvest STL is a St. Louis organization that works to provide fresh produce to communities that are food insecure. In other words, it benefits those who that have little or no access to fresh produce. 

Jeff was part of the first class of interns, and stayed on for a second growing season. While he was participating in the program, he was also developing a plan to build a smaller version of Urban Harvest’s food roof on campus. After lots of research and discussions with on campus stakeholders, he obtained the necessary approval to transform rooftop space. If it wasn’t for the internship at Urban Harvest,  Jeff probably would have never decided to establish a green roof on campus.

The Capstone Project Lives On

After Jeff graduated in 2018, other members of the Principia College community have stepped up and kept the roof green. Currently, the green roof is most frequently used by Carly Hendrickson, the College’s administrative assistant. Carly had been interested in gardening for many years, and also enjoys gardening at her house in St. Charles, MO. She’s grown tomatoes, basil, rosemary, mint potatoes, kale, kohlrabi, red cabbage, and leeks.

So far, the produce grown on the green roof has gone to a small group of people, including summer research assistants, professor of sustainability Dr. Karen Eckert, members of the Sustainability Club, and Carly herself.

In addition to Carly, The Sustainability Club also utilizes the space on occasion. The Club has held rooftop garden parties during the spring, and has also created fresh salads with the roof’s abundant leafy greens. 

Most Recent Activities

The spring 2020 semester did not unfold as planned due to COVID-19 complications, but the green roof did produce a small harvest. This harvest wasn’t the usual variety of leafy greens and herbs though. Due to restrictions on campus, Carly wasn’t able to consistently work on campus and visit the roof. Fortunately, she planted a few pots of tulips earlier in the semester. In April, the flowers were able to be harvested. Since I still had access to the Science Center as a Post-Graduate Teaching Intern, I was able to harvest and distribute the tulips. 

Future Plans

Once campus returns to a more normal state, the Center for Sustainability hopes to revive the rooftop garden, and continue to maintain this campus-grown food space. If you will be on campus in the future, and would like to get involved, please contact Dr. Karen Eckert, the Directer of the Center for Sustainability. To learn more about Principia College’s sustainable food scene, you can visit the Center’s new website!


Eating Insects? Cricket Protein and Sustainability

Jolee Keplinger | Post Graduate Teaching Intern| Principia Center for Sustainability

Did you know eating crickets is one of the most sustainable complete protein sources? It may sound a bit weird, but powdered crickets can actually be a tasty nutrient powerhouse!

When raising 1 pound of crickets, only 1 gallon of water and 0.55 pounds of grain are needed. Just 0.15 pounds of carbon dioxide is produced.

In contrast, a pound of beef requires 1799 gallons of water, 6.6 pounds of grain, and produces 15 pounds of CO2!

You may be wondering how to start incorporating this highly sustainable protein source into your diet. Below is a recipe created with cricket powder from a local company called Mighty Cricket. The startup has existed for just a few years, but is growing fast! Currently, you can find Mighty Cricket products in various restaurants throughout the St. Louis metro area, and in a few specialty grocery stores, such as Local Harvest.

Visit mightycricket.co to learn more. Below is a recipe I created for the company. Stay tuned for more!

Savory Oatmeal Recipe


  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cricket powder
  • 1-2 cups spinach
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)


1. Cook oatmeal according to package.

2. While oatmeal is cooking, heat olive oil in pan on medium heat.

3. Add spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Sauté until spinach is wilted and mushrooms are golden brown.

4. Place oatmeal in a large bowl and mix in cricket powder. 

5. Top the oatmeal with sautéed veggies.

6. Add salt and pepper to taste (and your favorite herbs/spices).

The Principia College Campus: The First Layer of the Local Food Journey

By Jolee Keplinger (C’20) | Principia Center for Sustainability

Defining Local

The specific number of miles traveled by food to count as being “local” varies. The definition adopted by the U.S. Congress considers local food to have traveled less than 400 miles from its origin, or be from the state it was produced. The more common definition of local food means it was grown within 100 miles or within the state. 

Local Focus: Principia College

I will start this local food exploration from where I am living, Principia College, located on the bluffs next to the Mississippi river in Elsah, IL. Just on this 2,600 acre campus, a plethora of off-the-radar foods are scattered across the landscape. I will start this food-venture at the East Quad housing section of the campus. There, a mini apple “orchard” exists, and each fall, the trees are abounding with apples.

Apples harvested from campus – Fall 2018

Most students walk by these trees without giving them a second thought. I used to be one of those students, but last year, my perspective changed when I participated in the sustainability club’s apple sauce workshop during the fall of 2018.


I was amazed at how under-appreciated the apples were, and at the potential to create a variety of apple products right on campus. It’s too bad these apples aren’t incorporated into the campus’s dining services. Instead, industrially grown apples are shipped in from many miles away, and their origin is not communicated to us. 

Fortunately, an aspect of the campus that’s being utilized are the sugar maple trees. A biology course called Sugarbush focuses on making maple syrup during the spring semester.

The students create products using the maple syrup, and sell them in the campus’s store. This example demonstrates how local food is so accessable.

Sadly, if you go to get pancakes for breakfast, the maple syrup is not campus-grown due to its high value and limited quantity. Instead, you’ll find an artificial version shipped in from many miles away. 

bottled maple syrup

Fun fact: Principia’s maple syrup is FSC certified. Products labeled with this certification come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits!

90% of proceeds benefit Principia’s Land Stewardship program. 

Maple Syrup for Sale

 Value added products, made by students enrolled in the maple syrup making course, will be for sale in the C-Store as well. For example, sweets such as cake pops, rice crispy treats, maple bark, and popsicles graced the shelves last year.


Next to the sugar shack (where the syrup is boiled) lies a community garden, which is currently being revitalized.

The Science Center, which is located next to the garden, is contributing to the campus’s local food production as well. Part of this building’s roof has been transformed into a garden. There, kale, cabbage, leeks, romaine lettuce, and a variety of herbs are being grown, (and sunflowers are coming soon). Evidence of the campus’s potential to self-sustain itself is the student/faculty-run victory garden during World War II. This demonstrates that with an urgent event, and call to action, things can be accomplished.


Rooftop gardens, also known as green roofs, provide many benefits. The most obvious one is the availability of fresh, nutrient-dense, and local food, which can be grown with organic principles. Additionally, rooftop gardens can lead to community building, reduce energy costs, and even provide habitats for native pollinators, which play an essential role in local food production.


The beekeeping program, a subset of the Sustainability Club, manages bee boxes, which have successfully produced honey.


This is exhibited during Sustainability Weekend each year. Samples of honey are offered to anyone walking through the Concourse.

As you walk through the concourse, you can enter the central food area, known as the Scramble Room. There, locally grown products are not the norm.

If you continue walking though, you’ll arrive at the campus’s convenience store, known as the C-Store. There you can find local specialties such as Fitz’s soda, which is hand-crated in St. Louis.


Even though the campus has the ability to produce a variety of foods, this utopian campus food system isn’t being achieved due to logistical factors, such as high turnover rate of student residents, apathy regarding the origin of one’s food, and our have-it-all, fast-paced, globalized culture.

The average person to expects to have 24/7 access to a variety of foods which of course, cannot all be grown locally and sustainably. 


On a positive note, the campus’s Dining Services has a five star rating from the Green Dining Alliance. This St. Louis-based program rates restaurants in terms of water and energy conservation, food sourcing, recycling and waste reduction, awareness, innovation, and chemical use.

In each category, Principia has scored at least four stars, except for the “sourcing” category. This highlights the fact that sourcing local and sustainable food has plenty of room for improvement.

For example, one product which happens to be manufactured semi-locally is the Beyond Burger.

3 Rivers.jpg

Fortunately, progress is being made. As Principia’s Dining Services Liaison officer for the Sustainability Department, one of my projects last semester was integrating local produce from a Three Rivers Community Farm. This small, family-run farm, which grows all its produce with organic principles, is less than a five minute drive from campus. (Fun fact: the land is actually being leased from Principia.) I thought it was important to utilize this local food source which lies in our backyard. I took action by setting up a meeting which included our chef, the director of the Sustainability department, and the owner of the farm. The meeting was a success, and resulted in a partnership with the farm. Fresh, local produce can be expected to become integrated into Principia’s Dining Services starting in the fall semester of 2019!

Final Words

Today, what’s needed is community awareness regarding the current, unsustainable-state of the U.S. food system, and individuals who are passionate about igniting change. Everyone eats, and everyone wants to eat in the future. For this to be possible, we must transition from the current too-good-to-be-true depleting global industrial food system, to once that’s local, place-based, and not just sustainable, but regenerative.


Even though Principia’s campus-grown food is a step in the right direction, the intentions seem to be academic research, Sustainability Club activity, or project-based. There is much progress to be made considering the multitude of possibilities that exist on a rural 2,600 acre campus.

Plant-based Product Review: Beyond Meat Grilled “Chicken” Strips

By Jolee Keplinger (C’20) | Principia Center for Sustainability

Move over tofu, Beyond Meat has created a variety of meat alternatives! My favorite product is the Grilled “Chicken” Strips. They look just like traditional chicken, and taste very similar. On their own, you can tell it’s not real meat, but when they’re served with other ingredients, it’s hard to tell the difference!

If you’re not sold by this amazing “meat” substitute, let me give you a few reasons why you should be.

Beyond Meat Grilled chicken

  • Complete protein — 20g per 3-oz serving
    • 46% of your daily value!
  • 20% DV of iron
  • No saturated fat or cholesterol

Chicken (espeically when raised on factory farms)

  • May contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • May promote animal exploitation
  • Potential for E. coli contamination
  • Waste pollutes the land and water
  • Some are fed arsenic to make them grow faster (toxic to humans)


The best feedback was received when the “chicken” was incorporated into plant-based dishes such as the stir-fry pictured above, quesadillas and melts. The melt pictured below was made with Daiya provolone “cheese”, “chicken”, tomato slices, and a bit of pesto spread on top of toasted whole grain bread.

Student Feedback (“chicken” only)

Yenum Egwuenu 6/10

  • “It tastes very veggie. It’s okay but I prefer meat. I’m open to eating it in the future though.”

Stephen Stuart 8/10

  • “It has a fish-like flavor. It’s really good but it doesn’t taste like the chicken I ate for lunch. There’s a blandish flavor. It would be great with spices and other things mixed in.”

Cheesy Chicken Melt – Student Feedback

Adelainee Biang 8/10

  • “It tastes like meat. At first I didn’t like it but after eating it all I think it tastes good! I normally don’t like cheese, but this tastes really nice.”

Boyo Amuka 10/10

  • “The chicken alternative tastes like normal chicken! It’s a great substitute! I think it’s best when combined with other things.”

The Verdict

This chicken alternative is by far, the most similar to chicken out of all the plant-based imitation chicken I’ve tasted.  It was received by students, making it an excellent option for plant-based eaters here at Principia.