Cooking for the Community at Forest Grove Elementary

One of the main goals of any school garden program is to grow food in a school garden that can be used in the school’s lunch program. I knew this from the very beginning of Sprouting Chefs but also knew that the size of our garden at Forest Grove was not nearly big enough to produce enough food for the whole school…or was it?

Sometimes monumental tasks take a different kind of thinking and approach.

The school garden grows a few things in abundance:

Kale, Chard, Salad Greens at certain times of the year, Tomatilos, Garlic and Herbs

All these ingredients if combined the right way with some supplements like pasta could create a meal that the community could enjoy.

In October 2016, the school was provided funding via the Metropolis at Metrotown Community Investment Fund that allowed Sprouting Chefs to provide support to the garden over the summer of 2016 to properly maintain, harvest and plant more crops for the Fall of 2016’s Cooking Classes as well as Spring Seed Gardening Classes and another set of Cooking Classes for the Primary Students.

With this in mind, there was an intention to finally connect the food growing in the garden with a lunch provided to the entire school…for FREE.

In the Spring of 2016, the school Principal, Al Post and I set out a plan that would create an event to connect the community to the garden and the food we are growing there. Event ideas ranged from a school market to having a guest speaker come in to speak about the importance of eating locally and seasonally. We engaged our partners at Whole Foods to provide what the garden could not as well as other community groups to be a part of this event.

Cooking Classes were to be provided to 5 Intermediate classes that would highlight a combination of what was available in the garden as well as what was seasonally and locally available. Recipes included: side dishes to serve at Thanksgiving, a food preservation class featuring the tomatillos and making the tomatilo salsa we normally sell at the Christmas Craft Fair which was not happening this year.

Ok, so part of the reason we really needed to create an event was to be able to sell the salsa at all since we grew and harvested so many tomatilos over the summer! Salsa was sold after school the day we had our lunch as expected, it sold out due to the fact the kids not only helped grow the tomatillos, they also helped make the salsa!

What I decided to do was to choose a handful of students out of these 5 classes that would then help me cook for the entire school at the end of the week. This actually worked really well to set the tone of the classes and create a good behavioral management tool for each class. By starting the class talking about the fact I was looking for students who demonstrated responsibility, leadership, a willingness to serve as well as strong cooking skills, the tone of the class dramatically shifted. At the end of each of the 5 classes, several students approached me to help out.

The easiest thing I could think of that would also incorporate what was available from the garden was a Tomato Pasta. Tomatoes were harvested and frozen, garlic was harvested and cured earlier in the summer and managed to hold very well until October. Salad greens, chard and kale could be used as a salad.

A donation of a gift card was provided by Whole Foods which allowed us to purchase ingredients for the 5 Cooking Classes as well as a few things needed for the end of week lunch. Pasta and canned tomatoes were donated by our friends at Ciolfi’s as well. Funding was provided to Sprouting Chefs in the Spring for whatever else was needed including disposables to serve the lunch.

In the end, about 25 students were chosen out of close to 100 kids. The recipe for the Tomato Pasta was broken down into tasks the kids could take on including: chopping onions, peeling and chopping garlic, cutting basil, grating cheese, making the tomato sauce, harvesting salad greens from the garden, making a dressing for the salad, serving the meal to the students in the school as well as clearing and cleaning.

The Hot Lunch Coordinator of the school provided the parent volunteers needed to help in the kitchen and set up the school gym. Two seating times were chosen to serve half the school at 11:30 am and the other half at noon.

Focus was placed on the students helping where they would do most of the food preparation and cooking while the parents provided the set up and support. This allowed the an opportunity for the kids from the Cooking Classes a real chance to shine. It was amazing to see how many kids wanted to stay for the entire event to not only help with the food preparation but also the clean up too!

There was a real sense of school community pride that was created as a result. For every child that didn’t necessarily like the lunch for one reason or another, there were many children who came up and asked for seconds, thirds and fourth helpings. Only one student asked for plain pasta so all the others had pasta with the tomato sauce.

What I do regret was not speaking at the event when I had the chance. Overwhelmed by the day and not having anything prepared, I can reflect back now and be able to at least say I am most proud of all the kids that happily and willingly participated, who served with the true sense of generosity where they did not expect anything in return. I am proud that despite not knowing exactly how much to make, if we had enough at all or if it would not work out, that faith in the school community and the intention of providing this meal carried me through.

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Will we do it again? I really hope so. Will it be the same recipe? Perhaps but with a new batch of equally eager students ready to shine their light into the world through the creation of a meal.

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