Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Summertime... And the Gardening is Easy

Natasha Hegmann is a service member in Ennis. 

This Monday snuck up on me like quicksand: a slow and unexpected sink. I rolled out of bed with no particular urgency -- no early morning class to prepare for, no school bells ringing, not even one frantic email from a teacher. A glance at my Google Calendar failed to produce the usual rainbow-colored anxiety headache. By noon I had pulled off a leisurely pumpkin planting with a group of preschool students, but then became mired in emails and long-procrastinated projects in the afternoon.

Service Site Supervisor, Janet Dochnahl, assists campers with an
industrial salad spinner!

Adjusting to life without the dependable structure of school and classrooms has been a steep learning curve since school let out at the end of May. There is still plenty to do, the difference is in my approach. Working with kids outside of the school year is a whole different bailiwick. Instead of coming in with a planned lesson and learning objectives I prepare a general theme, an idea for an activity, or a project that needs to get done in the garden.

For example, our last after school Garden Club activity of the year was to make a “weed salad.” Abundant rain and sun had created quite a weed issue at that point: lamb’s quarter was popping up between the perennials, volunteer sunflowers were sprouting in vegetable beds, and red orach (or miner’s spinach) was springing out of the gravel and mulch around raised beds. We showed the different weeds to students and explained which ones were edible. 

Ennis campers have a go at making their own
garlic chive dressing!
Harvesting a salad turned out to be much more fun than just picking weeds, and the students went on pulling until the garden looked almost spotless. We topped the greens with a homemade garlic chive vinaigrette and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds. The students went wild. Weed salad quickly became the most popular cooking project of the year.

Another summer project I’ve been working on is planning Kids Corner activities for our weekly Farmers Market. Teaching kids about gardening and food at a farmers market poses some challenges when compared to classroom teaching. Families come and go throughout the market, youngsters of all ages are likely to to be interested in market activities, and the teaching space is always prone to the elements -- rain, hot sun, and high winds can swiftly end any fun activity.

I have found, practically by accident, that open-ended, creative projects work well in this setting. Last Friday I brought one of the school’s four worm composting bins down to the market with examples of food items worms like to eat. What I thought was a last-minute, poorly thought out activity proved to be a hit. Just minutes after the market bell rang I found myself engulfed in a sea of children clamoring to see, hold, and feed worms. I taught younger kids about worm anatomy (ie. this is the worm’s head), and I taught older kids about the different worm “food groups” and how they relate to human nutrition. The most rewarding part of the activity was seeing children marvel at the wriggling worm in their palm and helping kids learn to care for a living creature.

In Ennis we’re relaxing into learning for the summer. Free from homework and the limits of a 15 minute recess break, the kids and I are spending more time each day tending to the basic needs of the garden. We’re asking questions, playing games, and quietly observing and appreciating the beauty of the natural world in our valley.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cooking with Veggies in Kalispell!

Katie Wheeler is a Service Member in Kalispell.

Every Tuesday in April and May, I taught an after school cooking class to six 5th graders at Edgerton Elementary with a fellow Kalispell AmeriCorps member.  These kids were the absolute best.

When being taught about the value of buying local, they listened.  When asked to give the egg salad--made with Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise--a try, they not only agreed, but proceeded to eagerly plead for more. When asked to add just a bit more spinach to their mini-lasagnas, they added A LOT more.  

During this cooking class series, we also made homemade ricotta and sauce for the lasagna, biscuits from scratch with homemade butter, and spent an entire class cooking eggs in a variety of ways paired with other healthy and delicious recipes.

However, it was our most recent class that was the cherry on top of our students’ awesomeness!  Up to that point, we had made some vegetable-heavy dishes, yet the veggies were never the focal point of the dish.  So this time, we did just that.  We made roasted asparagus (from Lowdown Farm of the Western MT Grower’s Cooperative), baked sweet potato fries, and kale chips!  (See recipes below!)  We wanted to ensure that our students understand that veggies are delicious and can stand on their own as a main course. 

Each of the dishes we cooked were voraciously gobbled up by the students.  One student exclaimed, “These are SO good!!  Can we save some for my mom and sister?!” Unfortunately, we could not restrain ourselves and proceeded to consume every last bite.  

My favorite part of the class was when a student’s little brother came in early and he got to “eat himself” because his name is Kale!  Of course, everyone got a big kick out of that! When his sister commented that “we are what we eat, after all,” the saying had never rung truer.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Olive oil
Sweet potatoes
Desired seasoning (salt, pepper, garlic, cayenne, chili pepper, onion, paprika etc.)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
2. Cut sweet potatoes into 1/4-inch long slices, then 1/4-wide inch strips
2. In a large bowl toss sweet potatoes with just enough oil to coat
3. In small bowl mix together desired seasoning
4. Sprinkle cut potatoes with seasoning
5. Spread sweet potatoes in single layer on a baking sheet, being sure not to overcrowd
6. Bake until sweet potatoes are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes

Oven Roasted Asparagus
Olive oil
Sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
Desired seasoning (garlic, cayenne, chili pepper, onion, paprika etc.)

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2.  Wash the asparagus thoroughly
3.  Stack a bunch together and cut off the tough/thick bottom inch or so
4.  Spread out the asparagus in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet
5.  Pat it as dry as you can, as you don’t want any water to “steam” the asparagus in the oven
6.  Generously drizzle olive oil all over the asparagus
7.  Sprinkle the asparagus generously with sea salt.
8.  Grind fresh pepper on top
9.  Put the pan into a PREHEATED 425-degree oven for approximately 10 minutes

Baked Kale Chips
Olive oil
Sea salt, to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 300°F
2.  Rinse and dry the kale
3.  Remove the stems
4.  Cut or rip into large pieces
5.  Toss with olive oil in a bowl then sprinkle with salt.
6.  Arrange leaves in a single layer on a large baking sheet
7.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until crisp