Serving Up Food, Empathy, and Gratitude at Thetford Academy
November 16, 2023
A partnership has been growing between Thetford Academy’s Culinary Arts program and the school garden. This fall, school garden coordinator Ehrin Lingeman and culinary arts teacher Jennifer Gernhard teamed up to ensure the garden’s harvest was enjoyed by as many people as possible.
Gernhard’s “Cooking for Health” course led an initiative to turn TA’s produce into delicious meals for the café meal program. Students in the class visited the garden each week to harvest tomatoes, peppers, snap beans, summer squash, onions, and more – and learned what it takes to grow fresh produce and bring the “farm to table.”
With each harvest, culinary arts students turned the produce into a side dish the school community could sample with their lunches. The new program, which students call “a la carte in the café,” is aligned with Vermont’s Harvest of the Month initiative. This farm-to-school program aims to guide schools to highlight season-appropriate produce that can be grown in school gardens or purchased from nearby farms.
In September, participating students prepared pasta primavera using garden-grown tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, onions, and basil. In October, they created a “zesty roasted roots” side dish with sweet potatoes, onions, and potatoes. Next, they will make roasted butternut squash and apple soup using the garden’s butternut squash harvest. With over 100 servings needed each month, students are learning how much time, effort, and volume it takes to prepare meals from scratch.
Shifting the school meals paradigm to a more locally-engaged and environmentally-friendly culture is a daunting task, and TA’s students are learning just what goes into it. In the classroom and through visits to organizations like the Upper Valley’s food recovery organization Willing Hands, they are developing a broader understanding of our current food system and the barriers both schools and families face getting fresh food and healthy meals on the table.
For example, to transform raw vegetables into their “zesty roasted roots” recipe, students put in over 20 man-hours to complete the task. Accessing fresh local produce can also be a barrier, they learned, or the lack of knowledge or time to transform raw vegetables into a meal from scratch. Understanding what we can do as citizens to make the community a healthier and more equitable place is an important first step toward change.
Wanting to do more in TA’s own community, students prepared a freezer slaw, zucchini relish, and roasted squash puree for distribution by the Thetford Food Shelf. They made over 150 servings of apple crisp for the Food Shelf’s Annual Benefit Dinner, and apple pies for the Thetford Elder Network luncheon. This week, they are preparing soup – with TA-grown ingredients – for an “Empty Bowls” fundraiser at TAAA’s Holiday Craft Bazaar on Saturday.
Both the culinary arts curriculum and TA’s garden program are strengthened by their collaboration and shared commitment to service-learning. Each year, the relationship students have to the garden – and their community – grows, building a brighter, healthier future for all.