“How many of you have tried arugula before?” We saw fewer hands go up than you’d think. Arugula, or “rocket salad”, doesn’t typically find its way onto the kid’s menu. It’s known by chefs, foodies, and farmers alike for its bold, peppery flavor, uniquely shaped leaves, and dense nutritional content. Arugula is typically found in salads, on sandwiches or pizzas, and in pesto sauces.
For our April 2017 Harvest of the Month, City Schoolyard Garden (CSG) teamed up with the Local Food Hub and Louisa County’s own Phantom Hill Farm to serve over 2,800 Charlottesville City students at eight schools a sample of arugula salad. For older students, the arugula was dressed with some homemade balsamic vinaigrette (made with local honey!) to give the greens a tang and complement their bright flavor.
Brighter still were the smiles on the faces of Emma, Justin, and Piper, students at Walker Upper Elementary and members of the AVID Nutrition Committee, as they served their classmates. Fifth and sixth graders in the Walker AVID Nutrition Committee, under the leadership of AVID Site Coordinator Crystal Beasley and Physical Education teacher Chris Shuma, were excited about getting involved in the Harvest of the Month program. With financial support from Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, CSG has begun implementing Harvest of the Month lunch-time taste tests at Walker Upper Elementary School starting in April 2017. After a successful pilot run in December 2016, CSG knew it was time to incorporate Walker into the folds of Harvest of the Month. A partnership with the AVID Nutrition Committee to help implement Harvest of the Month at Walker was a natural fit! Students from the Committee had been regularly meeting with CSG and the Nutrition Director, Carlton Jones. In efforts to make real change at their school, they had been providing input on what they’d like to see at their school in terms of garden programming and healthy foods in the cafeteria and worked to survey their peers about the two issues. When CSG approached Crystal Beasley about involving the students in Harvest of the Month, Ms. Beasley didn’t hesitate to sign them up. The AVID Nutrition Committee students volunteered during the four lunches at their school to serve their peers the Harvest of the Month crop. Decked out in custom City Schoolyard Garden aprons, they tossed the arugula in dressing and served over 330 plates to their classmates. As fans of arugula themselves, they delighted in exposing their fellow students to something new and watching the reactions of the first-time tasters. “Come on. You should try it. It’s really good,” promoted one of the AVID student volunteers. If that didn’t encourage fellow students to come try the snack, a volunteer scarfing down 5 sample plates and licking the plate clean definitely elicited some interest from onlookers.
“The second plate was better!” said a Walker students who came up for seconds, but asked for more dressing this time around. Other students preferred dry, undressed greens, and a few could even be seen placing their arugula atop their cafeteria pizzas, in facsimile of a common Italian practice. Innovations like this are made possible by CSG and AVID’s commitment to making the lunchroom a place of learning, student involvement and opportunities for leadership. CSG and its partners believe giving students power over what they eat, along with providing the materials for them to make educated decisions, is an integral part of the push for fresh and healthful school lunches. Through communal gardening initiatives, students build relationships not only with one another, but with the food they eat, the space they live and learn in, and the ecosystem that makes it all possible.
In addition to learning about healthy eating, April’s Harvest of the Month also served as a lesson about the difficulties farmers can face. Due to a hailstorm, Phantom Hill’s arugula crop was destroyed and the arugula served had to be sourced from B&W Growers in Pennsylvania.
Left: Photo of a healthy arugula plant. Right: Arugula crops damaged after hail storm.
This served as a reminder to all involved about the importance of community partnerships and support for local farmers. Additional arugula also went to some of CSG’s local partners: Buford MS, Lugo McGinness Academy, the CCS Central Office, City of Promise, PB&J Fund, and Mas Tapas Restaurant.
Top Left: CSG intern Olivia Raines picks up a box of arugula for delivery. Top Right: CSG Program Coordinator Kim Nguyen whips up some homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Bottom Left: Students at Johnson Elementary receive their Harvest of the Month snack. Bottom Right: Students at Greenbrier Elementary with a bowl of fresh arugula.
Check out the video below of our friends at Phantom Hill Farm drying their greens with a method both unconventional and familiar: