by Kelly Zimmerhanzel, FoodCorps Service Member
Remember that lettuce we planted back in April? Well, it grew! In June, we had the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at Litwin, Streiber, Stefanik, and Bowe come out into the garden to harvest their lettuce and plant fall crops including carrots, beets, and potatoes as part of our Salad Days and Harvest Days program. The program, created by Backyard Growers in Gloucester, gives every student involved a total of three garden visits and two seed-to-fork experiences over the course of the year. In April, each class comes out to the garden to plant lettuce seeds. The lettuce grows until June, when each class returns to harvest what they planted and sow the fall crops: potatoes, beets, and carrots. The next day, we all enjoy a student-grown salad taste test in the cafeteria. Each class returns to the garden in the September to harvest the fall crops, which are then roasted and taste-tested in the cafeteria.
Lettuce at the Bowe School Garden
Each class comes out to the garden for just 30 minutes to harvest and plant. First, they have to wash their hands. Then, we take them to the half of the bed that they planted and give each student a pair of scissors and assign them a square. Molly, Greta, or I will then demonstrate how to grab the top of the lettuce and snip it off with the scissors just above the soil, so our lettuce stays clean. We also show them how to snip off the roots of the lettuce if they accidentally pull them out and explain that is not the right way to do it because it gets dirt everywhere.
A student at Bowe cutting their lettuce
The kids put the harvested leaves in one of our harvest bins and keep harvesting until their square is completely denuded. When everyone is done harvesting, we move over to our washing station, where each student grabs a handful of lettuce, swishes it around in a bin full of water, and then moves it to a bin with holes to let it dry.
Students at Litwin washing their lettuce
Once all the lettuce is washed, we add it to the basket of our giant salad spinner. Molly, Greta, or I will put the top on the salad spinner and show the kids how to crank it. Each student gets to crank the salad spinner five times and then moves to the end of the line and we keep spinning it until the salad is dry. I like to ask the students or teachers if they know how to count in any languages other than English or Spanish, because those are the only two I know. Some of the kids immediately requested, “Spanish!” and a few even requested, “Spanglish!” so I counted one number in English and the next in Spanish! Many of the students and teachers shared their languages with me, including one student who counted in Khmer and a teacher who counted for us in Greek!
Greta helping students at Stefanik spin their lettuce
Students at Litwin admiring their dry lettuce
Once the lettuce is dried, we put it in a big bag so that we can put it in the refrigerator and serve it in the cafeteria the next day! Then, we head back to the bed and each student has to remove the lettuce roots and any weeds from their square, otherwise the lettuce will keep growing and choke out our fall crops! When the square is completely clear, we ask the students who are planting potatoes to dig a hole in the middle of their square. We give each student a potato and remind them to plant it with the eye (the sprouting part) up, so that the plant can grow. Finally, they gently sweep the soil over the potato.
Students at Streiber digging holes for their potatoes
For the students planting beets and carrots, the process is a little different. When the square is completely clear, we ask each student to make a 4x4 array of holes in their square by digging in their pointer finger to the first joint. Once each student has 16 evenly spaced holes in their square, we give them a pinch of beet or carrot seeds and instruct them to place one seed in each hole and return any extra seeds to us or ask us for extra seeds if they do not have enough. When all the seeds are in the holes, they gently sweep the soil over them to cover them up. At this point, the class is all done and can return inside!
A student at Streiber planting carrot or beet seeds
A student at Streiber planting carrots
A student at Stefanik planting beets
At Stefanik, we were lucky enough to have Hannah and Dana, two representatives from 88 Acres, one of our local vendors, come out to play a telephone with the kids and give them a sample of their Pumpkin Seed Butter.
88 Acres representative Hannah giving the kids samples of Pumpkin Seed Butter
Altogether, we harvested about 143 pounds of lettuce - 7 pounds from Litwin, 22 pounds from Streiber, 21 pounds from Stefanik, and a whopping 93 pounds from Bowe! The harvest at Bowe was on Monday, June 18th, the hottest day of the year so far. Despite more than half of the students being absent that day, and having to harvest in about half the time to avoid the heat of the afternoon, we managed to harvest all 93 pounds of lettuce!
The students were able to taste their lettuce in the cafeteria the day after we harvested. At Litwin and Streiber, we made a balsamic vinaigrette dressing with olive oil, dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, and a little honey. During every Taste Test, we allow the students to vote whether they disliked the dish, liked it, or loved it by dropping the backs of their stickers into the voting buckets. At Litwin, 30 percent of students disliked the salad, while 70 percent of students liked it or loved it! At Streiber, the results were even more positive; 27 percent of students disliked it and 73 percent of students liked it or loved it!
Molly and I showing off the lettuce before the Litwin Taste Test
At Stefanik and Bowe, we tried 88 Acres’ recipe for ranch using their Pumpkin Seed Butter. I’ll admit, I was skeptical of ranch made out of seed butter, but once I tried it, I was hooked. The kids seemed to like it too! At Stefanik, 33 percent of students disliked the salad, while 67 percent liked it or loved it! At Bowe, the results were even better; only 18 percent of students disliked it, while 82 percent of students liked it or loved it!
Although we didn’t manage to use all the lettuce in our taste tests, we made sure it didn’t go to waste. The extra lettuce from Litwin and Streiber was donated to Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen and at Stefanik and Bowe, Molly and I put the lettuce in individual produce bags, and during dismissal we handed it out to parents and students, who were excited to take home a little piece of their garden!
The ChicopeeFRESH team is a group of creative individuals who are working to feed Chicopee students healthy, local and FRESH foods each day.