Food is a force of good. Which is why we work with amazing community partners to improve and empower healthy eating in our cities. We visited one of those partners, Garden School Foundation, when we debuted our first Los Angeles-area location a few weeks back.
We headed to the 24th Street Elementary School to see the garden and learn about its mission. It’s much more fun to be a participant than an observer, though, so we jumped right in:
It’s a steamy October school day and recess is starting soon.
Groups of uniformed kiddos can be heard from the other side of the fence, and they’re yelling and racing and story-sharing and lunch-planning. But on this side of the fence — the green side that’s brimming with vibrant produce — on this side, it’s a little quieter.
There’s soft chatter and shuffling as everyone finds his or her spot at the matching set of picnic tables nestled under the shade-providing arbor structure studded with hand-painted dried gourds from art projects past.
This is the 24th Street Garden Classroom, the space the Garden School Foundation calls its home base. Learning program leader Abigail Orosz, ready for the day in weathered high-tops, a comfy tee, and maxi skirt, is tasked with getting everyone’s attention. And she’s very good at it.
We’re sitting at that picnic table, too, and we’re trying to figure out what’s so nutritious about brown rice. We’re learning what differentiates brown rice from white rice, and how the grain is such a great starting point for a simple meal. We’re raising our hands (we won’t get called on if we don’t). And now we’re learning what’s so tasty and healthy about cranberries, and almonds, and calcium-rich feta cheese.
Now for a tough one: What’s that grassy-looking, onion-smelling plant? It’s not onion, and it’s not garlic, and it’s not… grass. Actually, it’s garlic chives. And now it’s time to pick some.
These adventurous 24th Street Elementary second-graders dutifully split off into two groups, each tasked with finding the garlic chives in the garden. Each student gets to pluck a single strand from the patch. Oh, and how about some fresh basil, too, while it’s harvest time.
After the greens have been gathered, everyone has to wash his or her hands. Everyone scrubs for a few moments and then rinses for a few moments. Why keep paper towels or a dish towel on hand when you can just do the hand-drying dance?
First, we raise our hands up above our heads and wave our wrists back and forth; Then, we bring them down by our sides and wave them around some more. Finally, it’s time for one final drying swoosh, wiggle, and dance – we can see why dogs have so much fun when they take the shake-it-off approach to drying off.
So what does Abigail have in mind that includes brown rice, cranberries, almonds, feta, and, of course, those garlic chives? On this particular cooking day, we’re making an herbed rice salad. It’s a team effort.
First, everyone does a little lemon squeezing and a little (very careful) garlic chive chopping. Then, it’s time to take turns adding dried cranberries and almond slivers to the rice. There’s a sprinkle of feta in there too, and then we sing the “Mix It Up” song. The lemon, olive oil, and garlic chives get stirred together, and then added to the rice mixture. Everyone gets a chance with the giant bowl and the large wooden spoon, and a few eager helpers get to set out reusable plastic bowls for everyone to try some.
Portions are spooned out, and bowls are passed down the picnic tables. No one can start eating until everyone is sitting down and being quiet. Ok, now it’s time to say, “Cheers!” Each youngster tries some, and even if they don’t like every single ingredient, they’re still eager to compare and contrast flavors and favorites. Most bowls make it into the clean plate club; those that don’t are carefully emptied into the compost bin.
There’s some more chatter about the meal, and Abigail asks the kiddos whether there were any surprise flavors, and whether everyone thinks they could make their recipe creation at home for their families. In a few more minutes, it’s time to line up and say thank you for a great garden class. It’s time for the next block of the school day (recess is soon, remember).
After everyone files back out through the garden’s front gate, there’s a little moment of silence. Abigail and her diligent team of volunteers seem to take a coordinated deep breath. But before too long, it’s time to finish tidying the dishes and wiping down the tablecloths and grabbing a quick sip of water.
Because in a few minutes, this colorful, inspiring, passion-infused space will come to life again. The next class is learning about pumpkins. The 24th Street Garden Classroom waits for no one.
Herbed Rice Salad
3 cups cooked brown rice
¼ cup dried cranberries
1/8 cup shaved almonds
¼ cup feta cheese
2 T olive oil
Sprinkling of fresh herbs from the garden
Squeeze of lemon juice
Combine rice, fruit, nuts, and cheese in a large bowl. In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped fresh herbs. Add oil mixture to rice and stir until thoroughly mixed. Enjoy!