Monday, October 15, 2012

Seed to Plate Garden: Fifth Graders Screaming for More Vegetables

Vittorio Ettore in blue shirt talking with the kids
about the garden's progress over the summer.
Several weeks ago, I wrote a piece for the Winchester Star on the Seed To Plate program here in Winchester.    Due to limits on space, I couldn't write all I wanted about this very cool program, so here is a more complete summary of the program and what has happened this year in the garden.  Unfortunately, the article, again, was not posted online.

Seed to Plate is a wonderful program created by local Chef, Vittorio Ettore to help connect children with the food they eat.  Vittorio is the Chef/Owner of A Tavola and Bistro 5, two fantastic restaurants in Winchester and West Medford respectively, and his passion is to provide food inspired from his native Tuscan roots, that is created from fresh and often locally sourced ingredients.  As a shamless plug, my wife and I are huge fans of both his restaurants. (I received no compensation in any form for my blatant support of Winchester's finest Chef.)

Some of the available stone used in building
the herb garden, here after the harvest event.
In 2011, I helped Vittorio to design a simple garden behind the Historical Society's Sanborn House.  The building is an example of the Beaux Arts style, commonly used during the turn of the past century, and fortunately we had some stone left from an old temple to use in building the planting beds and some columns for structure.  On a small budget, Vittorio and his organization have done wonders with drip irrigation, a shed and composting bins.

Vittorio works with the fourth and fifth-graders at Ambrose School to plant, maintain and harvest the garden, while working with the teachers to help the kids learn about the science behind the process of growing food.  The teachers have integrated this into their curriculum in science.

Kids coming in to sample beans, cherry tomatoes, chard
fennel and many other items.
This past spring, fourth-graders planted tomatoes, soy beans, beets, fennel, corn, string beans, chard, kale and many more herbs and vegetables in their garden behind the Sanborn House.  This fall, as fifth-graders, they reaped the rewards of their hard work.

On Friday, September 14th, all Ambrose fifth-graders had a chance to view the progress of their gardens over the summer.  Vittorio spoke to the children about the successful growing year and showed them zucchini blossoms, gigantic green beans, nasturtium flowers, coriander seeds, licorice-scented fennel and other treats from the garden.  He then invited them into the garden to smell, touch and taste the rewards of  their work.

Two girls tentatively eating Nasturtium Flowers.
You can't imagine the sight of a pack of young children grabbing vegetables and voraciously eating them.  A couple of young girls were sharing and comparing a few veggies, while some boys had a nasturtium leaf/flower eating contest.  Nasturtium leaves are a little spicy, so they were obviously showing off a little.  In this environment with Vittorio encouraging them, the kids were freely sampling veggies and herbs that would be shunned at most kitchen tables.

Cristy Walsh and Kristen Remondi, parents of fifth-graders and Co-Chairs of the Seed to Plate program, helped Vittorio oversee the program by organizing parents to come two times a week to maintain the garden over the summer.  Many would come with their children to share in the work of training plants, pruning, weeding and enjoying some of the ripe produce.  Vittorio himself worked in the garden twice a week during the summer, and the automated irrigation system made their work easier and kept everything growing strong.

Harvest Day-- it was like a swarm of locust hit the garden!
Vittorio not only wants to teach the children about the source of their food, he wants to teach them all aspects of growing for themselves.  “If it’s dirty, it’s perfect for kids.  I want them to learn how to do everything,” say Ettore.  “We will collect seeds this fall and start our compost pile too.” This year’s fourth graders will learn about composting and start the new compost pile with the plants left after the harvest.  They will then add compost  and prepare the planting beds for winter.  In the spring, they will start the process over again by growing seeds indoors and planting the garden when the weather permits.

Chard and Fennel at this table for bagging.
To help fund seed purchases and the new compost bins this year, fifth-graders grew salad greens in the early spring and packaged them for Ettore’s restaurant, Bistro 5.  A lucky fifth-grader was selected by lottery from the fifth-grade class to toss and serve these salads at a fundraiser held at the restaurant.  From the event, they collected over $300, more than enough to purchase the materials for the new compost bins.  Vittorio and the parents committee are constantly trying to raise funds and have local contractors and retailers donate time and supplies to continue the program.

Monday, September 17th, was harvest time and nearly thirty fifth-graders showed up after school to pick the vegetables in preparation for the feast to come.  Vittorio and the parents organized the children into groups to pick all of the vegetables and put them in bags so parents could take them home and prepare dishes for the harvest feast.  After harvesting, the children came back around to remove the plants and form a pile of green material for the compost pile.

The culmination of all the hard work by Vittorio, the fifth grade parents and the fifth-graders themselves was the Harvest Feast on Wednesday, September 19th.  The Parents and Vittorio prepared and served about a dozen different dishes:  Quartered Beets with French Melon Sauce, Minestrone Soup, Fried Kale Chips, Sautéed Zucchini, Roasted Fennel, Sautéed Beet Greens and a big salad with Chard and Nasturtium Leaves, tomatoes among others.  

The Ambrose school lunchroom was packed with fourth and fifth-graders waiting to sample their harvested food, and the principal brought them up a table at a time and they had a blast.  It was fun to go table to table and ask what was their favorite dish.  While Roasted Beets with a French Melon Sauce may be a stretch for any school lunch program to prepare, these kids devoured everything.  I was hoping to get a small cup of Vittorio's Minestrone Soup, but it was long gone before the parents were able to sample, but I was able to taste some scraps that remained after the kids did their damage.

The parent's committee explaining
and serving the food they prepared
Everyone thought the Minestrone Soup was awesome.  A table of girls all with plates filled with their harvested vegetables agreed that the Edamame was their favorite, but they also liked the salad and Kale Chips.  Everyone enjoyed the special lunch, and showed appreciation for Ettore and the parent’s committee.

The Harvest Feast was the culmination of the project for the fifth-graders, and now fourth graders will take over care of the garden by starting the composting process and preparing the beds for winter over the coming weeks.

Imagine what would happen if a few parents or a local Chef in every town took the effort to develop a simple program like Seed To Plate.

For more information:

The other lunch served that day was a steamed Hot Dog
with Baked Beans...

1 comment:

  1. I am so impressed with this project! I suspect the gardening bug was passed on to a lot of these kids, who will someday enjoy their own gardens. Hopefully, all will have a new appreciation of veggies.