Our greenhouse production is heating up – for one crop: basil. While the school system is not quite ready for pesto yet, our community is, and summertime is a great time to shift from school lunch production to local restaurant. Plus the basil seems to really love the rising temperature in the greenhouse. Selling summer basil will help keep the program sustainable the rest of the year.
The students are growing some beautiful Persian cucumbers in the greenhouse in beta buckets. They are just starting to come in! They are kid-friendly cukes – small, thin-skinned, seedless, and sweet. We will use them in school lunches through May and then in our summer feeding program!
These are top-of-the-line veggies going out to children most in need of good nutrition. Grown by students for students!
During the last month, while we have had some of the coldest temperatures in Gainesville, we’ve been able to harvest some beautiful basil and peppers from the greenhouses. The basil was clipped back just before Thanksgiving and was frozen for future use (our district chef is working on some recipes that include pesto!).
This week, some of the sweet banana peppers were ready. We tried these out as a substitute for bell peppers and were pleased with the results. This first batch will be snacks (served with dip) for 300 students at Lake Forest Elementary. Our students will be running variety trials in the spring to learn more about the productivity and sweetness of different types of peppers and then will conduct taste tests with the elementary school students at the schools we are serving. They will also plant these varieties in the shade house to learn where they grow best during the warmer months.
There is a lot of learning (and a fair amount of eating … or “taste testing” going on here). It’s surprising how good things taste when you’ve known them since they were a seed.
G.E.T. (Growing Education Training) students harvested 150 heads of beautiful mixed lettuces – the first of a continuous stream of weekly harvests from their amazing NFT table. Wearing gloves and hairnets, students carefully trimmed the root ball of each head before gently wrapping it and sending it on its way to the cooler. From there, the lettuce was transported to four schools – Duval, Metcalfe, and Lake Forest Elementary schools, and Loften High – for inclusion in their school lunch.
This harvest was the culmination of hard work and a lot of learning on everyone’s part – from following written and oral instructions to set up the complicated system, to mixing the nutrient solution, to checking and recording pH levels daily, to monitoring plant growth and trouble-shooting a nutrient deficiency. The students were there at every stage of the life of a lettuce plant, truly a “seed to plate” experience for them. They were thrilled to share the process with some of the kitchen staff who will be serving it to students this week.
Today students created a beautiful salad with their field-grown arugula and greenhouse lettuce, basil, and chard. Possum Hollow Farm donated some amazing greens to the salad, and Megan brought along some colorful fruit for toppings to illustrate her nutrition lesson on vitamins. This was their first harvest, and a real celebration of the hard work they have done in the field and in the greenhouses, raising plants from seed to plate. You can see in their faces how proud they are of their work and how pleased to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor in such a tangible way.
Tomorrow, 150 heads of lettuce will be harvested from the NFT table in the greenhouse. Students will hand-carry the lettuce, root ball still attached, to the kitchen for weighing and boxing up for children in four elementary schools who will be in enjoying it in their salads.
Tudorel said yesterday that he feels good about growing things because he knows he is doing something good for others. That’s one of the beautiful things about a local food system; you can see and know all its parts. The patient saving of seed, the careful sowing, the watching-over, the mindful trouble-shooting, the joyful harvest. . . it’s a wonder. Many wonderful folks lent their hands to this first harvest, and we are all grateful.