At the middle school, a learning garden designed by resource room teacher Amy Forman hums along with flat-leaf parsley, Thai basil and burpless cucumber, which is a nearly seedless, sweeter and thinner-skinned variety than typical supermarket cukes.
That’s one of the advantages of planting your own garden: being able to select rare, exquisite varieties of produce that the big box stores don’t stock. Lovely yellow blossoms and broad leaves of butternut squash plants thread gorgeous color through the garden. Mountain merit tomatoes and beefsteak beauties offer a pop of true red. Warm to the touch and ready to pluck, those tomato flavor booms wind up on the cafeteria salad bar.
|Cashew and White Cheddar Tossed Salad
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped yellow or red onions, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup oil
2 to 3 teaspoons poppy seeds-SALAD-
10 cups Romaine lettuce, torn
1 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese
1 apple, diced
1 pear, diced
¼ cup dried Craisins
½ to 1 cup cashews, choppedPREPARATION: In a blender, combine sugar, vinegar, lemon juice, chopped onion, salt, oil and poppy seeds. Process until smooth.
In a large bowl, mix lettuce, cheese, apple, pear, and cranberries. Drizzle with dressing. Add cashews and toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from Oh Sweet Basil
“This is an amazing garden. I love seeing the kids take such ownership of this space,” said Jessica Endres, director of dining services services at TK Schools.
Together, Forman and Endres helped the middle school establish its first garden club, an extracurricular activity that is three-pronged in its approach: to grow an organic garden, integrate the harvest into the school’s food program, and teach students to cook with whole foods — roots, stems, rind and all.
“I grew up on a farm and have always loved gardening,” Forman said. “My high school offered agriculture classes and we had a school garden. I was also inspired by reading about learning gardens in other parts of the country.
“Many of my students enjoy being outside and many doing things like cooking,” she added. “This club married both of those things in a way that helps our school, and the students and their families.”
Where Does Food Come From?
Ever since chef-restaurateur visionary Alice Waters established the Edible Schoolyard in California, garden-based learning proves that growing food is educational, rewarding and a terrific way to introduce kids to a wider range of fruits and vegetables than they have experienced before.
“It’s fresh; it’s not picked before it’s ripe and then hauled on a truck for 2,000 miles
With the garden-fresh bounty from the schoolyard garden and Cherry Capital Foods, Endres looks to prepare bolder and brighter dishes. For instance, roasted Brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar reduction and oven-roasted sweet potatoes with honey and cinnamon, for both the school’s cafeteria and at the garden club’s cooking classes, taught by Forman and Endres.
Eighth-grader Chase Dannenberg joined the garden club to learn more about planting a vegetable garden, and perhaps as a way to help his parents garden at home.
“I also joined so that I could learn how to cook healthy meals for my family,” Chase said. “My favorite part of garden club is learning how to cook. Everyone gets to work together to make the meals and we get to choose what we want to cook.”
Forman easily ticked off the many advantages to the growing project.
“The kids love seeing their hard work being consumed and enjoyed by their peers,” she said. “We are encouraging our students to eat healthy, to go out on a limb and try something new, and teaching our students about sustainability. Some of our tomatoes this year also made their way to the elementary schools too, which was pretty exciting.”
Forming Fruitful Bonds
In the club’s inaugural year last year, eight students signed up to take part, from outlining the vegetable plot to sorting out a watering system. Five families with a child in the garden club, including Forman’s, maintained the garden during the summer when school wasn’t in session.
“This is a learning garden is many ways,” Forman said. “The kids learn how to plan, cultivate and care for their own food. They also learn teamwork and how to have fun while technically working.
“My favorite part was seeing kids work together with other kids they never saw during their day at school or a kid that they have never spoken to. It was really awesome.”
At the garden club’s cooking class, the students whirled together chocolate strawberry French toast; stovetop macaroni and cheese with broccoli; and black bean, cashew and white cheddar Romaine salad drizzled with a homemade vinaigrette.
To wrap up the garden club’s inaugural run, Forman and Endres hosted a TK “Iron Chef”-style competition in April, with the students grouped into two teams and challenged to cook something delicious with a mystery ingredient: lemons. The winning team made an awesome salad and the other team lemon cookies – both using the skills they had learned in the cooking component of the garden club.
“It was a fun battle,” Endres said. “The kids had a ball.”