By Timothy Chase
After a couple of summers of testing garden planting and harvesting, Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) plans to expand its Garden to Cafeteria program in student lunchrooms this year.
Under the program, teachers, trained in the process of safely harvesting and handling food, will start to bring the student- grown and harvested produce—cherry tomatoes, kale, lettuce, spinach, etc.—into their cafeteria in a way that is safe for students to eat.
“It is a chance to get the students in touch with their food and know where it comes from,” said Kirsten Saylor, Saint Paul Public Schools garden coordinator. “It promotes healthy living, not only nutritionally, but in actively gardening in the fall and the spring.”
There are 24 school gardens/orchards in SPPS. In August, 16 teachers, staff, U of M representatives in food safety and gardens, and representatives from Urban Roots toured three SPPS gardens to learn more about the Garden to Cafeteria program. One of the gardens they visited was at Murray Middle School, which has donated more than 500 pounds of produce during the last two years to the local food shelf.
Kris Wirtz, Murray school-cafeteria supervisor, helped develop protocols last spring for assisting with student-grown lettuce. That included supervising the students in harvesting, washing and prepping the lettuce for the lunch-line salad bar.
As a science teacher, I am excited to bring the food into the cafeteria, and hope to use food, agriculture, sustainability and culture to build understanding across the diverse population at Murray. In addition, we will be inviting several local chefs into the classroom to tie together culture and food, with hopes that the thread of sustainability is a natural way of thinking in many cultures.
—Submitted by Timothy Chase, Murray Middle School science teacher