News & Announcements

Can You Smell What CSU is Cooking?

Food Strong, CSU Team Up To Pave The Way For a Healthy Future for Students

A program geared towards utilizing CSU’s FarmBot along with showing students the path to a healthy future on a budget is taking the Recreation Center by storm thanks to a partnership between CSU and Food Strong. 

CSU’s Farmbot made its debut last summer and is located on the CSU Recreation Center’s green roof. While it looks much like a regular garden you might see, it is controlled by a robotic farming machine and corresponding software. The addition of the FarmBot aimed to “create an open and accessible technology aiding everyone to grow food and to grow food for everyone.”

And that it has.

Not only does it produce herbs and vegetables grown in-house, but it provides an excellent opportunity for students to know where their food comes from. CSU’s Engineering Senior Design team has gotten in on the action as well, working on a project called FarmBot to the Max to build a second Farmbot so more produce can be grown and eventually distributed to the Lift Up Vikes food pantry.

Food Strong, whose mission is to utilize fresh local food to empower, educate, and cultivate health in communities across our region, was started by CSU Alumna Sara Continenza. It promotes the cultivation, purchase, and consumption of fresh, local foods while simultaneously providing linkage to other vital services and resources.

She started Food Strong after working for four years at an emergency food nonprofit. 

“I wanted to help communities achieve food sovereignty- putting the power of producing and accessing local foods in the hands of the people,” she said. “Emergency food is very important- but I see it being something folks rely on. I wanted to help create a system that helps people find other avenues to access food that foster self-sufficiency.”

After graduating from Levin College in 2014, Continenza followed her career path. Food Strong was born to assist her in realizing the dream of building an active school garden/culinary arts/entrepreneurship programming throughout Greater Cleveland. Fast forward to 2023, after reconnecting with Department of Health Sciences and Human Performance in the College Health at CSU, Judy Ausherman, the dream of creating a garden program at her alma mater became a reality. 

Enter Katie Blodorn, CSU's Assistant Director for Fitness and Wellness Programming. She thought it would be a great idea to team up with Continenza and Food Strong, so she devised a plan to conduct cooking demonstrations for students.

“Through this initiative, we have been able to meet monthly, truly connect as community partners and serve students,” she said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

To date, three culinary arts workshops have been taught, focused on educating students on how to prepare healthy dishes using affordable ingredients. Some dishes include pumpkin soup, vegetable curry pot pie, fire cider, and healthier holiday cookies. They have also been designing the garden's future, which is on the green roof of the student Rec Center. Beginning this Spring, additional steps will be taken to bring this vision to life. The classes have been well-received by students, with about 15 participating each time.

“Our goals are to inspire our students to understand the importance of fresh, local foods and eating healthily and we are teaching valuable culinary and agriculture skills,” said Continenza. “We envision a future at CSU with numerous student-driven food and native perennial gardens that enhance food access, support mental and physical health, and offer a therapeutic healing space for our students and faculty. We want CSU to become a destination for people pursuing careers in urban agriculture- an important step in a career pipeline that will turn Northeast Ohio into a destination for people who desire to heal our bodies and earth through fresh foods and gardens.”

Ausherman also points out the importance of the life skills students can take from these cooking demonstrations and the lessons they can take with them moving forward.

“Students are not being taught how to cook in schools, and we feel it is important to offer a healthy alternative for students living on campus,” she said. “Being an urban university located in a food desert, we feel it is important for CSU students to not only come to the university for their academics but also how to establish life-long health habits.”

Students interested in attending upcoming cooking demonstrations, slated for February 9, March 27, and April 18, can do so by registering through the CSU Rec Member Connect app. There are also numerous ways to get involved with Food Strong, chiefly by visiting to learn more about the organization and multiple programs.

“Since many students are on a food plan, we want to offer events that teach people how to cook their own meals,” said Ausherman. “The old saying, ‘if you give a person a fish, you feed them for a day. If you teach them to fish, you feed them for a lifetime'; providing a meal plan, in my opinion, is like giving someone fish; it does not provide them with any skills for how to explore healthy food options, and it forces them to eat food that may not always be healthy.”

Continenza added:

Not only are cooking demonstrations offered, but also 90-minute garden workshops, according to Continenza.  

“We are currently working with students to design what the future of the garden on the green roof of the rec center will look and the FarmBot is one part of it, but we are going to do different types of garden beds with various vegetables fruits herbs and native perennial flowers,” she said. “We create a well-rounded experience forced in participants and I would love to see how this initiative grows and supports urban agriculture education in the future.”