Volunteerism: School Gardens and Farmers’ Markets, Operation Frontline

September 12, 2009  •  Food for Thought

When I first launched my cooking business in 2006, my husband was concerned about me transitioning from a well-paying corporate executive job to my new small business. It wasn’t that he cared that I keep bringing in that kind of a salary, but I think he was concerned about my self esteem and how I would feel about a business where I would earn considerably less. After 25 years in corporate America, my business identity had become somewhat tied to what I earned, and he understood that about me. He said at the time that I should call it a hobby and just do it for free. I scoffed – as any entrepreneur would launching their business. Now, over three years later, I find myself spending my time almost entirely in philanthropic work. Sure, I write a piece for a magazine here and there and do a cooking class occasionally, but this last week was a prime example of just how committed to my volunteerism I’ve become.

Thursday, 9/3
Youth Farmers’ Market
Bear Creek Elementary

I cooked using produce for sale at the school’s first ever Youth Farmers’ Market and handed out samples of Garden Vegetable Salsa with Black Beans & Avocado and Zucchini Salad with Lemon, Feta & Dill
Monday, 9/7
Slow Food’s Eat-In in Support of Better School Lunches
Fairmont ElementarySome of my student gardeners from this summer helped me cook up samples using produce from their garden……while the picnic attendees sampled the food……toured the school gardens……and listened to Denver’s very own Mayor John Hickenlooper talk about the importance of gardens in schools, improving school lunches, and some of the leading edge ideas the DPS schools have about getting fresh foods onto the menus in the schools. 
Tuesday, 9/8
Operation Frontline
Eating Right Class
On Tuesday I kicked off my new group of participants in the 6-week long Eating Right class sponsored by Operation Frontline and we cooked up Barley Jamabalaya and Tabbouleh, focusing on using what to some are never before eaten whole grains.
Wednesday, 9/9
Colorado Proud School Cooking
Fairmont Elementary
Kamy O’Rear, a first grade teacher at Fairmont and the leader of the Seed to Table school garden program at that school, worked with me to bring the DPS Food Services vision for a Colorado Proud school lunch to the kids. Each of the first grade classes went to the garden first to pick a few things, then they met me in the cafeteria to make a pasta salad featuring Colorado grown tomatoes and produce directly from the school garden. The schools also brought in Colorado melons and peaches for the day to serve the kids, hoping to teach them about locally grown produce as well as to introduce more fresh foods into their lunches.
Thursday, 9/10
Youth Farmers’ Market
Bradley Elementary
Bradley had their first ever market as well this week and I was on hand to hand out samples of the salsa and zucchini salad.
Friday, 9/11
Logan School
Seed to Table Matrix ClassLogan is a private school and two parent volunteers teach a Seed to Table elective class with 6 kids. To add interest and continuity to their program, I volunteered to cook with the kids based on what was ready to harvest in their garden this week, and we made BBQ Green Beans and Quick Zucchini Soup.
Friday, 9/11
Youth Farmers’ Market
High Point AcademyTalk about the best set up possible for a market – this new charter school doesn’t have bus transportation yet, and since the school is located out on the plains on the NE side of Green Valley Ranch, all of the kids are picked up by their parents each day. The carpool line basically snaked around in front of the school then virtually every parent stopped at the market to sample my snacks while they waited in line to buy produce. We went through 3 batches each of the zucchini salad and the vegetable salsa along with 4 pounds of tortilla chips in 30 minutes. If I never see either of those recipes again, it would be fine with me!
Saturday, 9/12
My Own Garden
I’ve been challenged all year with an overly aggressive crop of zucchini plants. When I last planted them in my Highlands Ranch house I never got a single zucchini. So in an effort to beat the odds, I planted about 8 plants this year. About six weeks ago when they started to take over, my friend helped me pull out most of the plants, leaving just one big one. Well that one big one has gone on to produce probably 100 pounds of zucchini this month, which I’ve cooked, shredded and frozen, and given away.I finally surrendered this morning and – although this may sound crazy – pulled out the perfectly healthy and producing plant. I just couldn’t face that thing any more, none of my friends want any more zucchini, I have a freezer full of frozen shredded zucchini, and you readers are certainly sick of zucchini recipes.As I pulled the thing out (all 20 feet of it – which BTW was so heavy I could barely pick it up to get it into the compost bin), I grabbed all of the blossoms I could find (have recipes for these? send them to me please!) and several of the little tiny baby zucchini, which really taste the best. I’ll make something with them this weekend and that will be my zucchini swan song!The other reason I needed to get the zucchini plant out of there is that it had completely dwarfed the green onions growing under it. Don’t they look pathetic? I’m hoping with a little sun and water finally getting to them they’ll decide to stand back up so I can harvest them.
One final garden thought for the day – don’t ever grow your tomatoes like this. When I planted these I put in one measly stake per plant and tied them to it. Four months later the plants have spread 10 feet out, are pouring into my neighbor’s yard, and it’s a tricky feat to try to even get in there to harvest the tomatoes. There are still about 100 or more tomatoes on these plants, but because they are hidden under the foliage, it’s unlikely they are going to get enough sun and heat to ripen before the first frost. I’ll harvest them green if I have to and puree and freeze them for green tomato bread this winter.
I’m exhausted from this week, but also feeling full and grateful for the opportunities I’ve had with each of these projects. Funny, I thought my days in the schools were over once I became an empty-nester…but it seems like they might just be beginning!
If you are involved in a school garden or school cooking effort, you might enjoy using the recipes I created to work with your kids. You can find the document on the Slow Food Denver Seed to Table website. Scroll to the bottom of the page to click on the attachment I’ve posted.

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