Tag Archives: salad garden

Harvest-to-Home Giveaway!

17 Dec

This week and last, I sent home large bags of fresh-grown lettuce and spinach from the Edible Garden to school families.*

We’ve done this sort of giveaway before, and I’ll tell you why:

1. We can find good homes for vegetables that might otherwise languish uneaten in the garden.

2. Families who receive something fresh from the garden become instant fans. The garden can always use fans.

3. Fresh, nutritious foods have become luxury goods that many families can’t afford.

Let’s talk about that troubling #3. I just finished reading a recent Newsweek cover story called “Divided We Eat.” The thrust of the article was that in modern America, “the richest Americans can afford to buy berries out of season out of season at Whole Foods, while the food insecure often eat what they can: highly caloric, mass-produced foods like pizza and packaged cakes that fill them up quickly.”

I don’t want to go all preachy on you, but it troubles me that people are eating in two different Americas. About 13% of N.C. households are food insecure. Roughly 60% of our school’s children are on Free & Reduced Lunch, an indicator of poverty.

So this is something small we can do: Share the bounty of our school’s garden with the people in our community. Bridge the “Dinner Divide” with a gift of salad or spinach.

And keep working as a community on a more sustainable solution.

* I don’t know the identities of the families receive the giveaway veggies. I package up the goods; our school’s administration makes the deliveries.

Confessions of a school gardener

23 Nov

I have a confession. Before I tell you my secret, though, recall with me for a moment all the work we’ve done around salads at the George Watts edible garden over the past couple of years.

First, we planted a Salad Garden. We held “Salad Days” in the garden, where kids plucked fresh lettuce leaves, made dressings and nibbled their creations. Then we did the same thing in classrooms, turning salads into an afternoon snack. We grew radish, carrot and tomato plants, brimming with the perfect salad toppers.

I’ve been pushing salads for so long that I’m worried teachers are annoyed with me. But I keep doing it anyway, because salads are easy. You don’t need ovens or pots to prepare a salad.

That’s why what I’m about to tell you is slightly embarrassing for me: My own daughters hate salad. Here’s a picture of my 5-year-old daughter tasting lettuce that her classroom harvested…

I’m telling you this for two reasons:

1. I want to make it clear that I’m just an ordinary parent trying to help my kids eat better. I don’t have all the answers. If I had all the answers, my daughter wouldn’t be wincing in this photo.

2. Though I don’t have all the answers, I deeply believe that one solution is installing “kitchen gardens” and cooking classes at every public school. Every time I volunteer with a classroom or in the garden, I witness this truth: Kids are way more likely to taste and enjoy vegetables when they grow and prepare the food themselves.

Doing it at school means you benefit from the tipping point of vegetable tasting: Once a leader-kid dares to try something, others fall in line. That’s not such a good thing when you’re talking about cigarettes, but when it comes to tasting a radish, I’m a fan of peer pressure.

Granted, not every kid likes the salad, broccoli or whatever it is a classroom is harvesting and tasting. But plenty of kids do, and some of them live with the sort of food insecurity that makes it impossible for them to eat fresh veggies at home. And I’ve seen plenty of “a-ha” moments, as kids realize — lo and behold — they actually do like a vegetable that they didn’t like when it was served on a cafeteria tray or poured out of a can. In fact, they like it better than they normally would, because a vegetable tastes better when you pull it out of the ground and eat it within minutes. If you’ve done this before, you know what I’m talking about.

For some time now, it has troubled me that this deeply held “truth” of mine didn’t apply to my own children. Until now. Last night, when my family was eating out, something changed.

My 8-year-old daughter ordered the salad bar!

If she ever wins the Nobel Prize, she’ll see a beaming smile on my face that’s only a hair bigger than the one I wore last night.

She tried to be nonchalant about her big move, but because I’ve been more or less obsessed with salad-eating for nearly two years now, I ruined the moment by practically lurching across the table and asking, “What made you want to order the salad?”

“Because we made them in class,” she said. “When we were picking the lettuce, I was kind of worried that I wouldn’t like it. But then when we ate the salad, I realized that I actually do like it.”

I hope you caught that: My own daughter, who has been oblivious to the salad revolution I’ve launched at home and at school, is now willing to eat lettuce, because she and her classmates harvested and made a salad themselves.

As it turns out, she only ate some of the restaurant salad, even though she tried building it a couple of different ways. I asked her what was wrong — thinking maybe she didn’t like the dressing.

She said, “It just doesn’t taste as good as the lettuce from our garden at school.”

On a semi-related note, carrots in the garden are ready for harvest. Students really love discovering what’s growing under all that soil.

Eating healthy in the classroom

4 Nov

This week I have a guest post by Lower Elementary teacher Lauren Vejvoda, who talks about one of the true gifts of an Edible Garden — food that kids can pick and eat:

Some of my students have been checking the lettuce in the Edible Garden daily to measure its progress. They’ve been really excited to see something growing that they know is edible.

Photos by Susie Post Rust

When it came time to pick lettuce, we talked about how to harvest the lettuce leaves. The kids commented that the outer leaves were kind of dirty, while the leaves in the center were very small. So they agreed we should harvest the middle leaves.

The students loved popping cherry tomatoes into their mouths, as we picked them in the garden. Even kids who hadn’t eaten tomatoes before gave them a try — though a few expressions changed to “I’m-not-so-sure-about-this” once they bit down.

Most of my class was very excited to eat the lettuce for a snack, and they were super-thrilled to try different dressings they’d brought in.

Not everyone was a fan, of course. One student mentioned, “You know I don’t eat any vegetables,” so that student didn’t share our snack. A small few students tried the lettuce but did not enjoy it.

All in all the salad snack was a success, though, because the students were honest about their feelings, because almost everyone gave the snack a try, and because all the ingredients for the snack came from the Edible Garden.

We will definitely prepare another snack from the garden and continue discovering how vegetables taste!

P.S. Ms. Vejvoda’s teaching assistant, Ms. Bullock, harvested some lettuce to take home. She found me later to rave about it. It was better tasting and stayed fresh longer than the “in bag” salad she’s bought in the past, plus, she says, she could eat every single bit of it — even the stems were tasty. Spread the word, Ms. Bullock!

Eat it: A taste of the fall garden

21 Dec

Things are growing in the garden. So now what?

That’s one of the vexing challenges of a school garden: finding ways for kids to “cook” the food they’ve grown. A few schools, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, where Alice Waters started her first famous Edible Schoolyard, have built a dedicated kid-friendly kitchen. The rest of us muddle through.

Red lettuce, head lettuce and arugula go into the mix.

At George Watts, we’re only in our first year of gardening, so we’re winging it. My plan of attack, so far, has been this: Grow (mostly) food we can harvest and eat without necessarily cooking it. Secure a water source for cleaning. Set up permanent work stations outside.

Harvesting the herbs

Our first harvest/eating event with the kids was called Salad Days, and it’s definitely worth repeating.

Our fabulous school nutritionist, Becca Wright, and I led classrooms through harvesting from the garden lettuce, arugula, radishes and herbs, then preparing a tasting menu.

(And speaking of Becca, here’s a tip: If you’re a Title I school, find out the name of your school nutritionist and start brainstorming with her about programming ideas.)

On the tasting menu: salad with kid-made dressing, radish salsa and veggie dip. We used tortilla chips and carrots as vehicles for the dip. Becca had to buy the carrots at the store, because our garden carrots weren’t mature enough yet for harvesting. Not what we’d planned, but you can always know exactly when things will be ready for harvest when.

Becca, the nutritionist, makes veggie dip with students.

Kids were split into different groups to harvest the lettuce and radishes, pick and chop the herbs, mix the herb dip, concoct a salad dressing from the ingredients we brought, and make the radish salsa.

Tip: Invest in kid-friendly knives. Becca brought these fantastic green plastic ones so no one would lose a finger — something we’ll want to buy for future food prepping with students.

Not only did the kids get a nutrition lesson from Becca, they flexed their math muscles (measuring ingredients) and made a connection between the plants we’re growing and the food they eat.

One (newish) teacher actually said it was the best thing she’d done so far at the school. And it felt great to finally eat something after months of getting the garden up and running.

Veggie Dip

Ingredients:
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup light cream cheese
2 tbs chopped chives
1 tsp chopped thyme
1 tsp chopped sage

(Note: We used chives, thyme and sage, because they’re growing in our garden. Use whatever you have.)

Directions:

1. Measure yogurt and cream cheese and put them in a large bowl. Mix well.

2. Chop fresh herbs. Add them to bowl. Stir.

Radish Avocado Salsa

We grew radishes and cilantro in our school garden this fall, among other things. This recipe came from Isaac Dickson Elementary School in Asheville, N.C. The original recipe called for poblano or jalapeno peppers, but we left them out and added tomatoes instead.

Ingredients:
2 avocados
6 large radishes
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp freshly squeezed lime
1 tsp olive oil
2 large tomatoes chopped

Directions:

1. Half, pit and peel the avocados and cut into chunks.

2. Clean radishes and tomatoes and cut into small chunks.

3. In a bowl, stir together avocado, tomatoes and radishes.

4. Chop 1/4 cup fresh cilantro and add to avocado mixture.

5. Stir in 2 tsp lime juice and 1 tsp olive oil.

6. Stir together lightly and enjoy with tortilla chips.