Spring Open House

DSCF6553Students got to show off their work on Saturday when parents arrived for our Open House.  Tours of the greenhouse and classroom area were followed by a visit to the “Grow Zone” (formerly known as the field plot) and the Eagle Nursery which is staffed by adults with disabilities, including one of our own graduates. It was a warm day, and families enjoyed a snack of lemon balm tea and cucumber salad prepared by the students. It was fun to see the place through new eyes and to see how much the students have learned this year while they led their families around the different areas.

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Greenhouse Cucumber Forest

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Eagle Nursery

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SafeStaff training for our students!

Congratulations to our four SafeStaff-trained students!

Congratulations to our four SafeStaff-trained students!

The students who are with us everyday form the backbone of our program – in the kitchen, the greenhouse, and the garden. Food safety is an important part of their training and Daniel, our kitchen coordinator, has been methodically working through the SafeStaff handbook with them to make sure they are getting the basic training that every kitchen staff member should have.

Recently, four of our students, hand-picked by Daniel for their level of knowledge and experience, attended an official SafeStaff class taught by certified trainer Blake Dicks. Because the material was familiar to them, both from the book and in their experience working in the kitchen, they were very attentive during the four-hour class and participated right along with food service staff from across the county.

Today, Jan Benet from the Exceptional Student Education department joined Maria Eunice, Director of Food and Nutrition Services, and Blake, their trainer to give the students their official SafeStaff cards.  The Friday class celebrated with them with cake and strawberries. This is a wonderful first step toward finding good work for these great young people. Their hard work and professional knowledge and skills in the kitchen are going to make them an asset in future work environments.

Congratulations, students!

It takes a village - and we have a very supportive one at the Farm to School to Work Hub.

It takes a village – and we have a very supportive one at the Farm to School to Work Hub.

Potatoes!

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Students “dug for treasure” today and came up with red potatoes of all sizes. Their assistants were as surprised and pleased as they were.

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So many people experience potatoes mainly as a side of fries.  Experiencing the wonder of burying a piece of potato in a mound of soil, waiting and watering (and battling army worms) for a few months, and then discovering it’s multiplied by ten-fold is something that every child deserves to do.

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We have (at least) 31 school gardens in Alachua County ten of which deliver produce to their lunchrooms. Our students at the Farm to School to Work Hub grow the transplants and package some of the seeds for these gardens – sharing the bounty of their own wealth of knowledge and skills with younger garden treasure-hunters.

Fries and Ketchup – Farm to School Style

60s friesThe Persian cucumber harvest in the greenhouse is on a roll! And this week we also continued to receive “freezer-grade” strawberries from Frog Song Organics farm! So.. Daniel, our kitchen training coordinator, came up with this fun dish! We tested it at the downtown market Wednesday night and it got great reviews!

Matthew serves up a side of

Matthew serves up a side of “fries.”

Here’s the recipe for the dip:

Strawberry Dip:

1 3/4 cup frozen strawberries, thawed
2/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt
3/4 cup lite mayo
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/2 tablespoon each granulated garlic, dried basil, and paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Whiz together in blender until puréed. Simple, tasty, and it meets school standards!

The other side of farm-to-school

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We were so excited to find this great article on our Farm to School program on the front page of the Gainesville Sun last week!  While the amazing and beautiful hydroponic lettuce production has gotten a good deal of press lately, it’s harder to get the newspaper to feature the more mundane and routine side of getting large quantities of farm-grown food on the lunch tables.

This story includes a tired and sunburned farmer, a field of farm workers, harried school accountants, and 1600 pounds of lettuce loaded on a trailer each month on its way to the back door of our processing kitchen. It also includes our beautiful students decked out in hairnets and plastic gloves.

Cheyenne and Miranda go through checklist for receiving produce

Cheyenne and Miranda go through checklist for receiving produce

Arthur records harvest on a spreadsheet

Arthur records incoming lettuce on a spreadsheet

It’s not as pretty.

But it’s so important! THIS is our little part of a viable local food system! The farm growing our lettuce is the first one in the southeast to receive the “Agricultural Justice Project” certification. The farm workers at the Family Garden farm work for a living wage! And our students, waiting on the other end for the produce delivery, are learning valuable skills in food safety and accounting that will hopefully lead to meaningful work in their post-school lives. And all that (organic, restaurant-quality) lettuce, handled with care and driven all over the district in a plain-jane refrigerated truck, will end up on the plates of some students for whom this will be their only fresh vegetable today.

This article in Orion magazine describes well what we are working to do on a small scale at Loften now. We are excited about plans to grow a larger food hub in our region in the near future. It’s a good direction to be heading if we want healthy children, healthy farms, and a healthy local economy here, in this community.

Taking it into the community

Daniel, Matt, and Arthur serving up salad at the market

Daniel, Matt, and Arthur serving up salad at the market

We had a booth at the Downtown Farmers Market last week. Matt and Arthur prepared a tasty salad with their famous Florida Dip as a salad dressing this time. Nearly 100 market-goers tried it and liked it! Thanks to The Repurpose Project for the materials for our new sign – and to Rob Brinkman, volunteer extraordinaire, for building it for us.

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tiny salad featuring spring greens and roots plus edible flowers

Kale Chips – from Seed to Plate

Willard concocting the

Willard concocting the “Hot Chip” spices

Students harvested kale this week from the seed they planted in the fall. Three teams created three recipes: Indian Spice (Miranda and Robbie) , Barbecue (Cheyenne and Daniel), and  Hot chips (Willard and Arthur). Visiting Community-Based Training students got to participate in a taste test. Even those who were not a fan of kale at the beginning gave it a try.

There were some concerns . . .

Not so sure about kale chips...

Not so sure about kale chips…

And some outright skepticism . . .

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Cheyenne serves up her “Indian Spice” recipe

But everyone tried it, and quite a few liked it.

Studies have shown that it is possible to acquire a taste for healthy food even if we are inclined to prefer cake to kale. Encouraging students to give new foods a try is a tried and true method of increasing acceptance. Next week the GET students will test the Indian Spice Kale Chips recipe in the Loften high school lunchroom.

We grow some beautiful kale in this region – at Loften, in school gardens, and on farms – and it is so nutrient-packed it’s considered a super-food. Familiarizing students with kale and its nutritional benefits is a step in increasing the health of the young people in our community while supporting a healthy, local food system.

Miranda's  barbeque spices

Miranda’s super-secret barbeque spice mix