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Ducks to assist UM Dining in sustainability initiative

University of Montana Dining adds six Welsh Harlequin ducks as its newest sustainability initiative.

They’re not free range like the ones on Montana State’s campus, these ducks have a job. They’ll live and work in the South Avenue Garden.

"They are excellent for pest control so we're going to run them around the garden at different times of year and have them eat all of our bugs. They're great for fertilizer and they are an awesome educational opportunity," said UM Dining garden manager, Stasia Orkwiszewski.

Educational opportunities like visits from preschoolers. One class recently named the ducks Kiwi, Hazel, Mabel, Poppy, Etta and Duckleberry Finn.

They’re Welsh Harlequins which are supposedly a calmer and friendlier breed than other ducks.

The South Avenue Garden opened about three years ago and grows a wide variety of produce for the University System. Orkwizewski said a lot goes to the Food Zoo, Iron Griz, campus catering and some to the food court.

Orkwizewski wanted to add livestock to their produce-growing operation and all signs were pointing toward ducks instead of chickens.

"I asked the chefs what kind of eggs they would like the best and they said duck eggs and they're also much hardier than chickens so they are more disease resistant and better with the wet and cold which is good for Montana and I personally think they're cuter," said Orkwizewski.

She said she doesn’t know of any other restaurants in Missoula that have their own laying poultry.

Bridger Jellison, a culinary associate to the lead line cook at the Iron Griz, estimates 50 percent of their ingredients come from the UM gardens, plus other locally sourced ingredients.

It’s early in the season but they already had a fridge full of herbs and micro-greens from the garden next door. Jellison listed mint, parsley, micro-greens and garlic chives.

"Our garden -- I love it. It's one of the big staples of this restaurant. … Stasia will literally pick stuff right there, wash it, bring it to us and we serve it immediately. I mean, it doesn't get any fresher than that,” said Jellison.

Jellison said their new menu will have a South Avenue Garden salad and a South Avenue Garden sauté, both made almost completely from ingredients grown next door.

"I think the quality is 10 times better. I'm a local boy myself from Montana and I'm all about local product and Montana grows some great stuff,” said Jellison.

Now he has one more item, the duck eggs, to look forward to while Kiwi, Hazel, Mabel, Poppy, Etta and Duckleberry Finn patrol their new home, eating the bugs and fertilizing the garden.

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