ENCINITAS — Sixth-graders in the Encinitas Union School District are upping their lettuce intake while taking part in Salad Wars, an annual salad dressing competition in the district. One winner from each school is declared each week and this year one of the winners included a dressing inspired by late basketball great Kobe Bryant.
Salad Wars began three years ago and involves students spending a hands-on week at the district’s Farm Lab DREAMS Campus, an interactive learning center on a 10-acre farm located on Quail Gardens Drive. The students learn about good sustainability practices, building desalination models, and creating original organic salad dressings. They complete market studies, design logos and packaging, create mission statements, write jingles and collaborate on recipes.
Julie Burton, coordinator of Innovation and Farm Lab Development, said the goal at Farm Lab is to model transdisciplinary project-based learning for visiting teachers, provide sustainability-based education through the Next Generation Science Standards and teach environmental principles and concepts for visiting students.
“The Salad Wars curriculum was designed by two sixth-grade teachers with (that goal) in mind, as well as a goal to make it a full entrepreneurial experience that also integrated health and wellness through organic ingredients,” Burton said. “The bonus is that students eat a lot of farm picked lettuce taste testing their organic creations all week.”
All sixth-graders attending the district’s nine schools participate in Salad Wars. One school’s entire sixth-grade class is hosted each week. The students are split into four teams of about 23 people each. The business team is divided into five roles: chefs, bottlers, marketers, advertisers, and logo designers.
When crafting the dressing, the teams first smell and taste a variety of spices and herbs, then they taste and research a variety of vinaigrette-type dressings. They find one they like and then come up with ideas to enhance the recipe with “secret” ingredients like fresh fruit, zest, sauces, and/or unusual spices. Once the teams have settled on their final ingredients, the chefs make a prototype of the salad dressing.
“The chefs have the responsibility to taste it and make any changes to be sure it is delicious,” Burton said. “Once it gets the thumbs up from the team, it’s made in bulk and bottled.”
The students make the dressings from ingredients grown at Farm Lab and with ingredients donated by Jimbo’s, which sponsors the event.
On their final day, the teams present their creation to a panel of judges, complete with a salad dressing taste test.
Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear was one of the judges this year during the week students from Capri Elementary School were at Farm Lab. Capri is one of the district’s bilingual schools, offering dual-language immersion programs with the goal of sixth-graders being fluent in both English and Spanish, so students pitched their products to the judges with bilingual presentations.
Blakespear was among the panel who named Kobe’s Dunkin’ Dressing the winner.
“The Capri students … included all sorts of puns and references to the late Kobe Bryant into their marketing and presentation,” Blakespear wrote on her website of the event. “The students’ creativity, poise, attention to detail, artistic and musical ability, language fluency and teamwork was on impressive display at this delightful presentation.”
The ingredients for Kobe’s Dunkin’ Dressing included olive oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, white onion, salt, pepper, garlic, orange juice, honey and orange zest. The student’s slogan was “a shot of flavor,” and they said when they said the slogan in their presentation they pretended to shoot a basket.
Many of the group members who came up with the dressing play basketball and were fans of Bryant’s, who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
“We wanted to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant,” the team who created Kobe’s Dunking Dressing said in an email. “He had just passed away over the weekend, and it felt like the right thing to do.”
They added that they liked the superstar athlete because “he was respectful to players on the court” and they “loved that he is an author and has won an Oscar.”
Other winning dressings this year have been Wild, Wild Dressing (“The Best of the West”) from Paul Ecke Central; The Beetles (“Here Comes the Salad”) from La Costa Heights; and Healthy Hippies (“Grow with the Flow”) from Olivenhain Pioneer.
There are still a handful of schools left to compete. The winning teams are treated to a pizza party.
During their week at Farm Lab, students are also involved in designing and building a desalination model after reviewing drought patterns in California. After calculating their collected freshwater totals, students make a second iteration of their collaborative engineering models to see if they can improve it. Burton said the student teams that collect the most freshwater are announced at Salad Wars. She said students also learn about the water footprint and how much water it takes to grow different types of food.
“We were shocked how much water it takes to produce some crops,” the Kobe’s Dunking Dressing team wrote in an email. “Vanilla was the most shocking; 15,159 gallons per pound.”
Burton said the week the kids spend at Farm Lab is a chance for them to grow and shine.
“This is not about testing kids on their knowledge of organic salad dressing, desalination engineering, or marketing; it’s about providing an opportunity to gain, apply and share new knowledge — that students can carry far beyond the classroom,” she said.