More specifically, our mission is to “shape and redefine sustainable agriculture in our country by creating a template that will attract, inspire and retain young farmers. Through our own traditional farming practices and philosophy, we hope to encourage the next generation of farmers to value, protect and if necessary, restore America’s farmland in order to ensure that our fields continue to produce the safest, most nutritious and flavorful products possible. We hope that our legacy will be the establishment of a national farming model that ensures safe and sustainable growing practices that serve to protect and enrich the consumer for generations to come.”
Here's one way that we’re putting that mission into practice.
Edison Works Program
From the start, we’ve been part of the Edison Works program, which was created to help students succeed. This district-wide educational program connects students with businesses in the area, helping them to understand what kind of work takes place at a particular business—and what jobs may be available for them when the time comes.
In particular, this forward-thinking program aims to help students who may not go on to attend a four-year college. Here’s some of the rationale behind the program:
This school year, The Chef’s Garden has been part of the program’s Adopt-a-Grade, and we’ve adopted the fourth grade. “This means that we are giving presentations to three classes of students, with about 30 of them in each group,” says Tetiana Wheeler, human resource specialist at The Chef’s Garden. “We offer these presentations in a way that complements their school’s curriculum.”
Tetiana has personally gone out to the classrooms this year with Tom Skrovan, who oversees field and crop management at the farm. As part of their presentation, they helped the children to grow two varieties of lettuce, French breakfast radishes, cherry bomb radishes, and pea tendrils.
“The students water the plants and take care of them,” Tetiana says, “and we provided grow lamps to make sure they get enough light.”
This naturally gave The Chef’s Garden team the opportunity to talk about photosynthesis in an age-appropriate way, sharing how plants create energy to use as food. If you’re a teacher or parent and want to help your children understand the process, here are some resources that can help:
Photosynthesis for Kids
Here’s a video that can help explain the process:
Plus, here are interactive ideas to teach the concept:
Simple Photosynthesis Activities
Photosynthesis Coloring Page
“It’s a great program,” Tetiana says. “The students were energetic and very engaged, wanting to participate. For the culmination of the program, the kids will come out to the farm for a tour in the spring.”
When comparing this year’s program to last year’s, Tom points out how they focused more on making healthy food choices this year. “The students were amazed,” he says, “by how quickly the food was growing in their classroom. Plus, they couldn’t wait for it to be their turn to water the plants.”
Exploration of the Carrot
Although the students aren’t growing carrots, Chef Jamie Simpson from the Culinary Vegetable Institute came into the fourth-grade classrooms to show different ways that a carrot can be prepared. “Each student got four different cups with carrots prepared in a different way,” Jamie says. “Pureed, juiced, pickled, and blanched. Before we began the tasting, the students were asked if they liked carrots and they could hold up a card that showed thumbs up or thumbs down.”
Responses were mixed, with some students saying they liked them. Others didn’t.
Then, they got to taste carrots prepared in a certain way—and then they’d hold up a thumbs up or thumbs down card to share whether they liked what they’d just tasted. “What this process showed them,” Jamie says, “is that you can’t really make a blanket statement about whether you like carrots or not. Some people, for example, may only like them pickled, while others may only like them when they’re juiced.”
In retrospect, Jamie thinks it would have been interesting to use the same color of carrots throughout, to see what role color played in flavor perception. But, this year, the carrots that were pureed and prepared with butter and salt were yellow, while the others were orange.
“Almost everyone liked the carrots when they were pickled,” Jamie shares, “and the blanched ones may have been appreciated the most. The carrot juice got mixed results, and most didn’t like the puree. That may have been because of the different color, or it might have been a textural thing.”
Fourth grade teacher Julie Lewis believes that the students just couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that a carrot could be yellow, being used to the idea that carrots are always orange. “The flavor of the pureed carrots was good and the texture was nice and creamy,” she says, “so I think it was a visual thing, an issue of being a little bit leery of trying something new. I thought the carrot juice was awesome and the students loved the pickled carrots so much that they were trying to get some from other containers.”
Although the Edison Local Schools area used to be rural, Julie says that few of the students now have a farming background, so hearing about growing crops was something new to her classroom. “The students are really invested in the program this year,” she says, “and it’s going really well. My grandparents had a farm, so I got to experience that kind of life when I visited them, but most of these students don’t have that context.”
She, along with other teachers, got to visit The Chef’s Garden in November and Julie thought it was a wonderful experience—and she is looking forward to going again when the students will get to visit as part of a field trip in the spring.
“At the beginning of the school year,” Julie shares, “I gave the students a pre-test and asked them what types of jobs might be available at The Chef’s Garden. They didn’t have any idea. They didn’t have a good sense of where their food comes from, either. I expect that they’ll do much better on their post-test, and many are much more interested in the idea of farming than they were when school started this year.”
Julie loves the relationship building that is going on, as well. “When Tetiana came with Jamie,” she says, “the students instantly recognized her and were happy to see her again.”
Finally, she appreciates how Edison Works and the partnership with The Chef’s Garden is exposing the children to new ideas. “As just one example,” she says, “they’d never eaten pickled carrots before. So, simply by learning about a new way that carrots can be prepared, they’re opening up their minds to brand new concepts.”