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The Casita Center's Kitchen Lab class, taught by Samantha Hastings, will create three salad dressings from different countries with recipes taught in Spanish.
The Casita Center's Kitchen Lab class, taught by Samantha Hastings, will create three salad dressings from different countries with recipes taught in Spanish. Photo by Jenny Chien
Columns Jano's Garden

Casita Center’s kitchen lab growing healthy children

“Eat your vegetables!” How many times have we heard that phrase echoed at the dinner table or by teachers at a preschool lunch table?

Although many children are adventurous eaters, many shun vegetables with a retort of “Yuk, I don’t like that!” My own son, now 37 years old, considered french fries a vegetable when he was a child, but now cooks a multitude of local vegetables on the grill or in stir-fry dishes.

When I attended the State University of New York School of Agriculture to study horticulture, I became interested in introducing children to agriculture and joined forces with other educators to work on the Kids Growing Food Project.

Casita Center teacher Samantha Hastings assists her Kitchen Lab students in choosing greens from a Tower Garden for a lunch salad at the Vista school.
Casita Center teacher Samantha Hastings assists her Kitchen Lab students in choosing greens from a Tower Garden for a lunch salad at the Vista school. Photo by Jenny Chien

After attending the university (at the late age of 50), I became the director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program in Cooperstown, New York, and along with other extension agents, worked on 20 school and community gardens across New York state.

Our goal was to teach children how to grow food and create a garden-based curriculum for elementary schools. The school garden curriculum is still available online at gardening.cals.cornell.edu/lessons.

NORTH COUNTY SCHOOLS GROW GARDENS

I mention my background because now that I live in Southern California, I have made it one of my professional goals to seek other educators who are working on the same kind of projects in San Diego.

Recently, I revisited the Casita Center magnet school in Vista and had the pleasure of touring the Kitchen Lab classroom with Principal Jenny Chien and Spanish teacher Samantha Hastings. The school was given a grant by the Sage Garden Project of Encinitas and has made excellent use of the nutritional science lab included in the grant.

The large Kitchen Lab classroom is equipped with a movable demonstration table and every cooking supply you would find in a large commercial kitchen. The Kitchen Lab makes use of all the vegetables and herbs that are grown outdoors in the school garden. (See column Feb. 4, 2022).

SAGE GARDEN PROJECT

According to Karen Saake, who has worked with the staff at the Sage Garden Project to create over 60 gardens citywide,  “We have found that children are more likely to try new vegetables when they grow the vegetables themselves. We have tried to introduce new vegetables in the lunch line, but children are not as likely to try them.”

More information about the Sage Garden Project grants can be found at sagegardenproject.org.

SPANISH AND SALAD DRESSING GO TOGETHER

The students in Samantha Hastings’ Spanish class at Casita Center have made excellent use  of all the equipment in the Kitchen Lab, and on the day of my visit the menu included “International Salads with Dressings.”

Samantha said, “We have the Mediterranean, which has lots of mint and a variety of peppers; Jamaican, which is made from orange juice and spices; and Thai, which has Asian spices, ginger and garlic.” All the salad greens and vegetables were picked from the school garden that day.

Third-grader Anthony told me, “We made three kinds of salad dressing for our salad. I didn’t like the first one, but when I mixed them all together, they really tasted good!”

According to Chien, the principal, “Conducting the classes in Spanish makes the language come alive. Our teacher translates all the recipes into Spanish, and children can take the recipes home to try with their parents.”

GARDEN IN EVERY SCHOOL

Many educators, Master Gardeners and foundations such as the Sage Garden Project have made it possible for young children to produce healthy food and eat nutritious meals that, yes, encourage them to EAT THEIR VEGETABLES!

If your child’s school has an interesting gardening project going on, please contact me at [email protected]. And keep on gardening!

Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist and Master Gardener and teaches gardening classes in North County. Contact the Carlsbad Senior Center at (760) 602-4650 for information on her Pine Street Senior Garden project. Jano can be reached at [email protected]

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