Living Classroom brings Farm to Lunch program to Mountain View schools

Courtesy of Vicki Moore
Mountain View Whisman School District chef Bob Mencimer, center, serves a Crittenden Middle School student a kale salad and kale chips earlier this month.

While bok choy and Swiss chard might not be most children’s go-to snack, the Mountain View Whisman School District’s new Farm to Lunch program aims to up its nutritional game by serving students freshly harvested vegetables.

Not only are students able to taste different types of vegetables, they are also involved in the process, from planting to harvesting to eating.

Students in the Beyond the Bell afterschool program planted vegetables in more than 20 raised planter beds across district schools. Those same students this month are harvesting the vegetables and delivering them to the district’s Central Kitchen to be prepared as snacks for every school in the district.

“It exposes kids to delicious, fresh produce from the garden, and we think it helps students who might not otherwise have thought of eating or may not have tried (the vegetables) to realize they are delicious,” said Vicki Moore, education director for the Living Classroom program.

The Farm to Lunch program debuted earlier this month with approximately 45 Beyond the Bell students harvesting a bounty of kale, cleaning it, weighing it and transporting it to the walk-in refrigerator. The district’s Central Kitchen staff, including chef Bob Mencimer, then created dishes that would be palatable to students.

The next day, the Crittenden Middle School campus hosted a tasting table featuring kale chips and kale salad. Moore said they dished up approximately 250 servings, the equivalent of two to three planter boxes worth of greens.

“Another great benefit is a number of students are directly involved in the production of the food and understanding the connection between the food in the garden and the food on the table,” Moore said. “Now they really know the food isn’t just from a package.”

Moore said Mencimer has been doing an outstanding job of making dishes that the students enjoy. The goals for the kitchen staff are to create tasty and nutritious snacks that appeal to students and, through exposure to their schools’ edible gardens, to connect students more directly with the sources of healthful food.

The Living Classroom, a garden-based education program, provides more than 500 hands-on science and multidisciplinary lessons in both edible and native habitat gardens to transitional kindergarten through fourth-grade students in the Mountain View Whisman district.

The Farm to Lunch program is an offshoot of that program with a “significant impact,” Moore said. The school district, the Living Classroom and the El Camino Healthcare District Community Benefit Program co-sponsor the initiative. Living Classroom garden manager Patti Berryhill oversees the program.

“The Farm to Lunch program combines the hands-on experience of growing food with the health benefits of better eating,” said Assistant Superintendent Cathy Baur. “Students may now be more connected and perhaps more receptive to eating healthy vegetables and fruits.”

Ten winter vegetables are set to be harvested in upcoming weeks, including broccoli, turnips, bok choy, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, beets, sugar snap peas, kale and potatoes. The school-grown produce will be served several times a month on menus at all 10 district schools on a rotating basis so that every student has the opportunity to sample the dishes.

“Our hope is that with sufficient grant funds, we can expand this to include fruit trees, pending school district approval, of course,” Moore said.

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