Growing green: feeding animals and guests

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Organic lettuce, tomatoes, basil, radishes, cabbage, green beans – it’s what’s for lunch at the Zoo, for our guests and our animals. With the help of Dallas County’s Master Gardeners, we’re harvesting nutrient-rich produce to feed our four- and two-legged friends.

Across our 106-acre property, we’ve planted multiple dietary supplemental gardens for our animals, as well as bulk “browse gardens” filled with woody plants for our large herbivores. And to feed our guests, we have an organic chef’s garden used to create lunch specials at Prime Meridian Cafe in ZooNorth.

“It can’t get any fresher than this. Other vegetables 10 miles away are transported on a truck, burning fossil fuels. We’re reducing our carbon footprint,” said Randy Johnson, horticulture manager. “Most people can’t even eat all organic, and we’re giving it to our animals.”

Every week after the animal produce is harvested, it’s sent to our state-of-the-art Animal Nutrition Center (ANC) for processing, cleaning, and measuring. “The produce grown on-site makes us so much more appreciative of what we’re serving our animals,” said Aaron Bussell, nutrition supervisor. “And it’s very beneficial to our zookeepers. They have more variety to offer the animals.”

With thousands of animal mouths to feed each day, totaling more than 20,000 pounds of food weekly, Bussell says any amount of produce grown on-site helps. “It’s one less case of food a week of 60 cases we’re sending out to our animals. We’re starting small, but it’s already making an impact,” he said.

Future plans include planting another half-dozen organic gardens on zoo grounds. Plus, a special treat is in store for our giraffes, zebras, and elephants – insert brag – since we are the only zoo in the U.S. to incorporate these majestic animals into one habitat. Soon the entire back perimeter of the Giants of the Savanna habitat will be lined with woody browse, including one of their favorite snacks – red tip photinia, Johnson says.

For the human mouths, our executive chef, Dan Bevis, and sous chef, Jacob Hunter, are incorporating delicious veggies into your meals, too. Every other day, they’re out in their 400-square-foot garden, watering and harvesting produce.

“It’s not just hamburgers and hotdogs at the Zoo,” Bevis said. “We’re creating unique, fresh and organic dishes every day. We take a lot of pride in our garden – watching it grow gives me an incredible amount of pleasure.”

And it’s that passion and commitment to fresh ingredients that is changing our guest’s perceptions of zoo food every day – from daily specials in Prime Meridian, to catered events such as company picnics.

And we couldn’t do it without the tremendous help from Dallas County’s Master Gardeners, who are here weekly keeping our gardens green and giving.

Woody plants for our large herbivores grow near the elephant barn.
Woody plants for our large herbivores grow near the elephant barn.
Dallas Zoo/Ashley Allen
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Categories: Conservation, Enrichment, Horticulture, Nutrition | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Growing green: feeding animals and guests

  1. Patti J. King

    the photo of your squash looked beautiful. I have not been able to grow squash for two years without borers getting my plants. I would love to know how you grow them and prevent this inevitable death as my plants have experienced! Patti

  2. Dallas Zoo

    Thank you, Patti! We will pass your question on to our horticulture team, and let you know what they say!

    Best,
    ZooHoo! team

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