Thursday, August 19, 2010

SFKT connects local children with local food

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Julie Walker of Greystone Farm (above left) "brings the farm to school" as she talks about chickens and eggs with Lee School third graders. During the same "Harvest-of-the-Month" session, chef Brook Harlan (above right) makes two kinds of omelets for the budding Epicureans. A student in Ann Mehr's art class (above) shows off her Thomas Hart Benton-inspired tempera (egg yolk) painting. Children learn how lettuce grows at Pierpont Farms (below) and chef Craig Cyr serves up freshly made quiche to students for their lunch on the farm.

More photos of the May 2010 field trip to Pierpont Farms may be seen at:

Slow Food Katy Trail has just completed the second year of its Slow Food-in-Schools project with Lee Expressive Arts Elementary School in Columbia. What an incredible two years it has been! The program there will continue under the guidance of Amy Higgins, a Slow Food-trained parent volunteer. In September, we will be starting the same program at a different school–West Boulevard Elementary. We'll kick off the project with a volunteer raised-bed garden-building event at the school on September 25. It will be followed by a potluck picnic on the school grounds. Please come join us!

In case you're not familiar with the project, here's a history and timeline of our efforts:

January 2008 Slow Food Katy Trail met with Lee students, teachers and its principal and decided upon a three-pronged schoolyard-garden and farm-to-table collaborative project with Lee School third graders: raise-bed gardening; field trips to local farms; and "Harvest-of-the-Month" sessions.

April 2008 We provided funds to build six-raised bed gardens behind the school. Slow Food members, teachers, parents and other volunteers helped construct the beds and fill them with soil. We also provided seeds for planting. Just before the children leave for the summer, we show them how to prepare a delicious salad with the many varieties of lettuces they raised.

May 2008 Goatsbeard Farm in Harrisburg hosted the children at the farm (during three separate field trips), showing them how goats are milked and cheese is made. The children tried their hands at making cheese; frolicked with the goats; and enjoyed an outdoor lunch of fresh goat cheeses, Uprise bread and fresh fruit. For many, it was their first trip to a real farm.

May 2009 and 2010 We took the children on field trips to two local farms, where they got to run through a bamboo "forest," pick lettuce, commune with the farm animals and listen to the farmers talk about raising animals and produce. They helped wash the lettuce for a beautiful salad that chef Craig Cyr of The Wine Cellar & Bistro made as they watched and asked questions. Craig also cooked other delicious locally grown and produced products from the farms. We concluded the farm tours with an outdoor lunch for all the children.

Monthly during the school year from September 2008 to May 2010
Our “harvest-of-the-month” sessions have introduced the children to a locally raised or crafted food each month. Not only do these sessions enlighten and delight the children, but they strengthen the connection between local farmers and the community.

Slow Food Katy Trail pays local farmers to bring their tomatoes, sweet potatoes, popcorn, honey, eggs, wheat, cheese and so forth to the school every month. The farmers discuss life on the farm with the children and how they grow or produce their products. The children study the various foods in different areas of the curricula such as history, art and science.

Local chefs and Slow Food volunteer cooks come to the school each month, in conjunction with the farmers' visits, to turn the food into delicious and nutritious treats for the children. All the children participate in the cooking.

It's been highly successful; the children love meeting the farmers, eating and preparing the fresh food, the demonstrations and doing the food art projects.

The overall goal is to help children develop a desire and appreciation for fresh, local foods, and to help them understand the importance of sustainably raised food as it relates to the environment, their health and their own communities and cultures. Judging from the children's comments, smiles and attitudes (and feedback from teachers and the principal), I'd say we have succeeded!

A special thanks to all the Slow Food volunteers and farmers who have generously donated their time and energies to help get this project off the ground and keep it going. Take a bow! Also a big thanks to teachers Ann Mehr and Carissa Seek, former principal Teresa VanDover, and principal Karen Burger for believing in this project. A big tip of the hat to Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent for elementary education, for his support of the Slow Food mission.

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