Friday, September 2, 2016

Garden to classroom salsa

Joining the student garden team at Lauris’s elementary school has been an exciting adventure! In our first year we reestablished a vegetable garden in what is affectionately called the “Secret Garden” and in the spring installed a butterfly and pollinator garden with indigenous and drought-tolerant species. We succeeded in our goal to get every single classroom out to the garden, and although our seed-starting in the classroom program got off to a rocky start, we learned many valuable lessons along the way and gained insight into how best to allocate our time and resources during this school year.

Planting the seeds of our fall garden

One of our main goals in the current school year is to get the fresh food we grow onto the students’ plates. Although we had classrooms in the Secret Garden to taste carrots, radish, lettuce and other goodies last year, a good percentage went to seed or was gifted to volunteers, as sometimes there wasn’t enough for an entire classroom to taste or take home. Other times we did send a classroom home with a treat (like a ‘make your own salad’ baggie) and heard that students forgot, meaning parents found an unpleasant surprise in their backpacks a few days later. While brainstorming the issue we decided we would have to bring the garden to the classroom... and that is just what we’re doing with our Secret Garden Salsa!

"Check out these peppers, mom!"

The tomatoes (including our Ark of Taste Cherokee Purples) are currently one of the most prolific crops in the garden, and with a class of 20-30 students it is possible to time the harvest so that each student can participate in the gathering. After a tour of the garden we let them search for and pick the tomatoes, gently coaching them on how to tell if a tomato is ripe and the correct way to harvest. The kids gather their haul and then we head to the classroom.

Splitting up into groups allows everyone to get involved while also allowing for adequate supervision (and enough tools) for the children doing the chopping. As we’re working with children as young as the 1st grade, I invested in a couple sets of these Curious Chef nylon knives. This doesn’t eliminate the need for a little tutorial on knife safety, but it does cut down on the possibility of injury; the serrated cutting edge can slice a tomato, but the blunt tip, ergonomic handle (made for small hands) and soft touch button grips prevent slipping and are designed to protect from cuts during proper use.

It was necessary to supplement the ingredients we picked from the garden. The previous week I had picked the tomatoes that were ripe and stored them in my fridge; this way an unforeseen harvest the previous day (or maybe just a hungry squirrel) didn't ruin the activity. In addition to these back-up tomatoes we bought cilantro, limes and onions for the making of our pico de gallo. I currently have onions ready in my personal garden, but the school onions were harvested this spring to make room for one of the summer crops, and cilantro just doesn’t do well in the summer heat - otherwise you could really harvest all the ingredients from the garden. The children cut everything but the lime (an adult used a real knife to cut that in half), and the ingredients were combined in a large bowl and mixed well by the students.

While the last of the onion was being chopped, another team set the table with small plates and chips, and soon the whole classroom sat down to their home-made snack. We had some concern over whether the kids would eat salsa (that doesn’t look like the stuff that comes out of the jar), but were actually impressed with the percentage of kids who tried it. The first week of school a friend of the Secret Garden brought fresh tomatoes in for the class to try, and more than a couple had declared they don’t eat tomatoes…  Well, apparently they do when they’ve made their own salsa!

While a portion of the class was busy with the cutting and mixing, the teacher was educating the rest on the meaning of the term ‘recipe’, and how to share our salsa-making experience with others. Together they composed a list of ingredients, tools needed, and created the step-by-step instructions seen below on how to make pico de gallo. As an added bonus, this recipe (along with some pictures) will be sent home to the parents, possibly encouraging them to take a shot at creating some fresh salsa in the home. We’ve since expanded our garden to classroom repertoire to include cucumber salad, and also shared our golden watermelon harvest with a couple of classrooms; now to figure out what to do with our green peppers and the bevy of parsley, basil and thyme! Any suggestions?

On the hunt for tomatoes!

Secret Garden Salsa Recipe 

(by Ms. B's 1st graders!)

Peppers (optional, we used a couple of pimiento peppers from the garden in lieu of jalapenos)

1.    Pick the tomatoes
2.    Cut the tomatoes, peppers and onions
3.    Tear cilantro leaves
4.    Put it in the bowl
5.    Squeeze the lime over it
6.    Sprinkle with salt
7.    Mix it up
8.    Eat with chips!

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