Rachael Ray’s got nothing on Auden Heitzler. Like a Food Network star, the Pacific School fifth-grader chops through an onion with uncanny skill, holding the base of the knife with one palm as she guides the blade with the other.
Her laser focus is understandable, considering she and three classmate sous chefs have less than two hours to prepare the crunchy slaw that will fill the Num Cha Gio Pale spring rolls for the exotic lunch menu she designed. In just 90 minutes, they will serve a Cambodian-inspired meal of Khmer baked chicken or tofu with a short-grain white rice to 100 hungry kids and teachers on top of red-checked table cloths as classical music softly fills the background.
Finished with a sliced mango and lime milk, the scene inside the school’s ocean-view lunch room is reminiscent of a Parisian bistro specializing in fusion food. But then again, most restaurant patrons aren’t encouraged by teachers during lunch to mind their manners, then asked to bus their own trays.
For nearly 25 years, fifth- and sixth-grade students at the Davenport public school have been cooking their own noontime meals through a revolutionary program taught by former Whale City Bakery and Grill owner Stephanie Raugust, now a local caterer who launched the project two decades ago as a parent displeased with unhealthy, unoriginal school food. The school is also ever-mindful of its relatively new culinary mission: Using as many organic, locally produced products as possible, including vegetables and herbs grown in its own garden.
Even before celebrity chefs and reality cooking shows became all the rage, the program has long been part of why half of the school’s enrollment consists of transfer students from nearby districts, including Santa Cruz, Bonny Doon and Pescadero. Other schools in the county have student gardens and vocational courses dealing with food and agriculture, but “Stephanie’s program really draws them in,” said Pacific School’s business manager, Noel Block.
Up to 100 students and adults buy the school lunch every day at $3-$3.50 a pop, though some students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Although Raugust is charged with overseeing the big operation, Block said the earthy cook “is fully qualified to run a three ring circus” considering her many years as a restaurateur.
While the Food Lab and its partner program, the Life Lab garden project, are designed to foster self-confidence, culinary skills and cultural awareness of other dietary traditions, the school has energized the curriculum with a new commitment to teaching and practicing sustainability. While many other school districts are working toward “greening” their lunch programs, most still buy bulk produce, meat and other lunch staples from large providers.
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A garden can do more than grow carrots and tomatoes. It can grow community, and self-reliance, and maybe even plant seeds of lifelong
health. That’s really the reason for Rochester Roots Inc., a nonprofit organization that does a number of “garden-based” educational programs aimed at teaching people how to grow good food (without pesticides or herbicides) and cook it, and how to protect the environment in the process.
This is the third year of a School-Community Garden Project, funded in part by a $270,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That money allowed Rochester Roots to hire some staff, buy a tiller, garden tools, fencing materials, seeds, greenhouse supplies, and a trailer to move materials around…
The program uses only heirloom vegetables, which have been in cultivation for at least 50 years without being hybridized — produce with striking names such as Imperial Star (artichoke), Climbing French (bean), Bull’s Blood (beet), Lunar White (carrot), Imperial Black Beauty (eggplant) and Blue Curled Scotch (kale).
Students and community volunteers, who work the garden in exchange for some produce, do market some of the vegetables during the summer at the South Wedge Farmers Market, “but we’re not trying to cut prices to sell all we have,” McDonald says. “Our main purpose is to show what we’ve done, talk to people about what we do and educate the community on how to grow healthy food.”
But, she says, “we do like the South Wedge Farmers Market theme — ‘the food less traveled.’ It’s grown close by. You can’t get any fresher.”Last year, the combined Community Food Project gardens yielded an amazing 6,344 pounds of produce — about 3¼ tons from 1½ acres of land.
“The children are learning about healthy foods, and how to prepare them,” says Susanne Willis, a retired city teacher who still works part time and volunteers at Clara Barton. “And we have older people who come out and work along with the children in the summer. That’s a real plus for them.”
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A beautification project at Cope Middle School recently offered students a chance to connect with the history of Redlands.
“Students planted the citrus and can see how vital it is to the Redlands economy and quality of life,” said Emily Chase Bueermann, school garden coordinator and liaison between schools and the Kiwanis Club.
Cope students and faculty, along with community partners, planted an orchard and helped build a water garden in mid-March as part of the Kiwanis One Day community service project.
“Place-based education provides the ability for students to connect with what they’re learning and where they live,” Bueermann said.
The school site was an orange grove at one time, Bueermann said.
“It shows the students what had formerly been there,” she said.
The activity stressed a variety of curriculum.
“The connection with the students and orchard creates cross-curricular connections, including math, science, social studies, health and physical education,” Bueermann said.
The orchard will be used as a business model after the fruit is harvested.
“Whatever we have left we’ll bag up and sell at the school or at Gerrard’s Market,” she said. “We want to give the students the full benefit of not only the garden but the real-world business market.”
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At Dorsey High School we are recreating a Three Sisters Garden as practiced by Native Americans hundreds of years ago.
The three sisters are: corn, pole beans, and squash. Typically they are all interplanted in a hill (or mound) to compliment one another.
Corn provides support for beans, which in turn provides nitrogen for the corn and squash. The squash grows along the ground acting like living mulch suppressing weeds and minimizing evaporation.
The corn and squash should be planted first, followed by the beans once the corn is about 8-12 inches. The beans are planted in a ring around each corn stalk.
One practice we will not be recreating is the planting of fish or eel with our seeds. Native Americans often did this to provide extra nitrogen to the soil. Thankfully we now have a product known as fish emulsion, which is an organic fertilizer that supplies the same nutrients as the raw variety.
For more information on the Three Sisters garden
1) Creating a Three Sister Garden-Discovering a Native Trio from Kidsgardening.com and;
2) Celebrate the Three Sisters: Corn, Beans and Squash from Reneesgarden.com.
THERE is something in the whole atmosphere of this school that makes one fall for it. It’s just not the tended gardens, well-kept classrooms or well-behaved students, but a strong determination to make a difference. And the efforts have paid off well. The Sisuvihar UP School, Vazhuthacaud, has won the Green School State Award instituted by the Biodiversity Board for commendable environmental activities of a school. On Monday, hours before the award was presented by Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan at the Thycaud Guest House, City Express joined the jubilant teachers and students at Sisuvihar. The Sree Sharada Devi Smaraka Sisuvihar UP School had caught headlines earlier too. The report on an innovative audio magazine, Spandanam, brought out by the students of this school was carried in these columns earlier. But nothing equals the environmental activities initiated here.
From ‘valkindis’ to conserve water to the medicinal herbs garden, the nature club of the school is active like anything. It had all started with the need to dispose the leftovers of the lunch brought by the children. The nature club got in touch with the Agriculture Department and the idea of installing a vermi-compost was born. The senior students belonging to class VII were given its charge. “It takes a minimum of three months before the vermi-compost actually yields result. So the idea of setting up a vegetable garden where this manure can be used was suggested and it was done,’’ says Sindhu, one of the teachers in charge of the nature club. The vegetable garden had everything to make a good feast. Long beans, amaranthus, lady’s finger, brinjal, bitter gourd, chilly and tomatoes. Last Onam, when the harvest was over, the nature club made a profit of nearly Rs 5,000 by selling the vegetables, while the capital was only Rs 2,000, says Sindhu.
School PTA president Pradeep and headmistress Vijayalakshmi are the silent inspiration for the students’ activities. The vegetable garden gradually paved way for a medicinal herbs garden with nearly 50 types of herbs, ranging from neem to koovalam, being planted here. With the gardens in full-bloom, the next problem that the students faced was shortage of water. It was then that the school experimented with the ‘valkindi’ project. “Two buckets are allotted to each classroom along with a single valkindi. The students have to use water from these buckets using the kindi to wash their hands or to clean their tiffin boxes. So, we saved water where, otherwise, the taps were opened unnecessarily and water was wasted,’’ says Akhil, nature club student member. The valkindis made in thick plastic were brought from Malappuram.
“ The students now know the importance of water. Even when they go home, they are careful to use water in a limited way, for they now know it’s precious,’’ says Sindhu.
The school had distributed 850 saplings to students under the ‘Ente Maram’ project. What’s more, they even have a ‘tree this month’ activity, where each month a specific tree is selected and students are made to collect information about them. The school also takes up environmental tours to Neyyar and Thenmala forest areas to introduce children to nature. It’s an unending list of activities and no wonder it has become the lone school in the State to have achieved the recognition. But it has only made them plan new ways to get closer to nature.
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Volunteers Transform Garden for Butterflies
Scouts and others pitch in to make the Endeavor Elementary nature site a hands-on teaching aid.
By Kenda Robertson, OrlandoSentinel.com
When the students at Endeavor Elementary School in south Orange County learn about the life cycle of a butterfly, they no longer have to sit in a classroom and see the process through pictures in a book. That’s because the 800 pupils, ages 5 to 10, are able to watch the insect transform from a chrysalis to a full butterfly in their school’s 3,000-square-foot butterfly garden, which is an Audubon-certified sanctuary.
Purple weeping lantana, blue porterweed and red pentas greet the children each day as they pass through the garden on their way to the playground. As butterflies flitter and ladybugs crawl, the youngsters are introduced to the world of nature and a host of living things.
With more than 1,000 plants and 20 different species, there is a lot to see, touch and explore. A brick walkway allows pupils with disabilities to enjoy the garden, too. The idea to create the special educational garden at the school was developed about two years ago when Marriott Golf’s Grande Pines Golf Club in Orlando decided to become an Audubon-certified golf course through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. The program, which helps golf facilities protect the environment, calls for the golf club to complete several steps. One of those steps is to create an animal habitat outreach and education program, says Chris Flynn, golf course superintendent for Grand Pines. He and his team supplied straw and mulch for the school’s garden, installed an irrigation system, helped build the garden’s walkway and continue to assist with routine maintenance of the site.
Once the appropriate steps were taken, the golf club and the school’s butterfly garden officially became Audubon-certified.”We felt a butterfly garden would be an easy and fun way to get kids involved and make them aware of the importance of protecting the environment at an early age,” Flynn says. “It’s an incredible learning experience as they help weed and care for the plants.”
Scout takes the lead
When then-14-year-old Kenny Carter Jr., an Eagle Scout and former student at Endeavor, heard about the butterfly garden proposal at the school, he volunteered to take on the garden as an Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project.Carter says he wanted to give back to the school and faculty who “taught him well and helped him progress.” He also wanted to honor the memory of his grandfather, Aubrey Carter, a 35-year teacher who had died several months earlier, and to whom the garden was dedicated on Dec. 1, 2006.
Although it took a year and 700 hours of Carter’s time for the garden to be completed, he says it also required a lot of teamwork and collaboration from many others in the community for everything to turn out so well. To start the project, Carter recruited Shari Fling, a master gardener volunteer who designed the 50-by-66-foot sanctuary. The teenager also organized a fundraiser at the school to raise money to buy plants, worked with Lukas Nursery and Garden Shop in Oviedo to get the plants at a discount and enlisted the help of his Boy Scouts of America Troop 996 to plant the garden. As she drew up plans for the area, Fling says she chose hearty, drought-tolerant, nontoxic plants that are easy to care for and that attract specific butterflies.
Some plants are Florida natives including the brightly colored beautyberry, which attracts birds. She also used simple plants, such as pentas and lantana, because children can see and identify them at their local plant nursery.
“There are two things you need to attract butterflies — a source of food and drink,” Fling says. Larval and nectar plants provide these necessities and serve as an invitation to specific butterflies. In the end, Fling chose plants to attract about a dozen species of butterflies, including fennel, which attracts the black swallowtail, and milkweed, which attracts the monarch.
“We are indoors so much with computers and games that kids miss out on a lot of outside fun,” Fling says. “I want this garden to inspire these children to see caterpillars and butterflies, and allow them to touch nature without being afraid.”
Helping kids and teachers
Kristen Vadnais, kindergarten teacher at Endeavor, says she uses the garden to teach her 5-year-olds about living and nonliving things. She likes being able to take them to the garden and show them rocks, soil, leaves, flowers, insects and, of course, butterflies. “They always let me know when they see a butterfly,” Vadnais says. “They also point out the different colors of flowers, and like to look at the bugs.
“Vadnais says the garden is valuable for teachers, because it gives them a visual to go along with the verbal lessons. “Younger children learn more through visual, hands-on experiences,” she says. “They can see how insects live, learn how seeds grow and watch them sprout.”
Barbara Richardson, editor of kidsgardening.org, a nonprofit Web site, says kids whose learning styles aren’t compatible with classroom learning usually show an advantage in the garden, developing leadership and knowledge through action.
“The wonder that children experience when they plant a seed, see it sprout and cultivate it to maturity is unique,” Richardson says. “Just watch a child pull up a carrot for the first time, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”
Carter says it took a lot of people to complete this important project, and he’s proud to have been a part of making it happen. “It was great how it came together, and everyone worked to help our community,” he says.
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Next week is spring break. Make sure watering issues are addressed while you’re away. In the meantime, we are currently harvesting: beets, chard, kale, carrots, cabbage, fava beans, broccoli side shoots, and fennel. Did you know kale is one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat? Read this article Kale: The Phytonutrient Master and start adding some kale to your diet. FYI, we’re growing the dinosaur kale (aka Black Tuscan Cabbage).