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A School Year in the Making

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A School Year in the Making
“Gather around everyone, I am going to show you how to puree the basil from our garden. We are making pesto! After you’re finished we can save one jar for sampling and the rest will go into the freezer.”
This was the start to one of the lessons with my Intro to Culinary Arts class this past semester at Beddingfield High School (BHS) in Wilson, NC. My main focus in my service has been developing a program that links their Horticulture and Culinary Arts classes. For a school like Beddingfield, that is out in the country and has acres of land, this makes perfect sense. Since my first day of service I have been teaching the art of food preservation to high school students. From making fruit preserves to pickles to pesto, we have been freezing, canning, and drying just about everything edible we can get our hands on at the school. We have sold these items as a fundraiser, entered products into the county fair, and used the foods for cooking projects later on during the school year. But our piece de resistance was set to be our end of year FFA banquet, which we hoped to make entirely from food we had grown, preserved and cooked ourselves. For a lot of these students, food has become more than just something to fuel their mind and bodies. For the horticulture students and culinary students alike, growing and cooking food have become a crafts, as well as opportunities to learn how to connect when produce was ready to what we would do with it. For example, our spinach was ready for harvest out of the greenhouse in April, but the ‘Sauces and Dips’ culinary unit was not until May. So, while we used some fresh spinach in salads, we blanched and froze a lot of the greens for later use in spinach dip. Horticulture students worked in groups to design and plant certain parts of the garden and greenhouse with edible crops. They spent time researching crops they could grow given our climate, time frame, and seed collection. After months of spreading mulch and compost, repairing an old greenhouse, building raised beds, shoveling out rows, planting, watering, and waiting…we finally started getting consistent harvests in spring. That is when I started hosting weekly cooking labs with these classes. Many of the students had never tried the foods they were growing, but were very curious. As one student exclaimed: With all the hard work we put into growing and preserving, we are ready for our big banquet. In total we would need to provide food for at least 150 people. Neither my students nor I had ever catered an event quite that large, but we were up for the challenge. The menu development had been ongoing throughout the year with the goal of keeping the foods simple, healthy and delicious. At first the culinary students did not look at the produce with excitement. Like the horticulture students, many of them had never tried the ingredients before so they were unsure how they felt about it. By creating a safe cooking space, the students were able to learn about, experiment with and try foods without any apprehension. Many students had not had any sort of formal nutrition education before taking Culinary Arts. We were able to discuss the importance of nutrients in food and why that mattered for their long-term health. If students didn’t like the way a certain garden-item was prepared, I would challenge them to think about other ways they might want to sample it. We all came to learn that sometimes we aren’t going to like everything we cook, but that someone else may love it so it’s worth trying to create.
“A radish, it’s kind of like a spicy potato! I had heard of them, but never knew what they looked or tasted liked.”
Through trial and error our final banquet menu consisted of: *There was also a whole slow-roasted hog (served as classic eastern NC barbeque) that had been raised at the school.
  • A garden fresh salad with lettuce, radishes, carrots, pickled beets and green onions
  • Two types of deviled eggs: classic and pickled pepper & bacon
  • Spinach Dip
  • Chicken Salad
  • Pesto Pasta Salad
  • Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies
While some of our dishes were made from freshly harvested ingredients, some were also whipped up from our preserved foods. Still fresh tasting and delicious, my students learned the value in food preservation from produce at the peak of ripeness. We all learned that working with the seasons and the school system can be very challenging. Often times they are not always on the same schedule. Fortunately for us, instead of getting frustrated we got creative. We put our love and energy into feeding the bellies of so many families at our FFA banquet, and I have never seen them so proud of their work. This school year my students learned that food nourishes the body, challenges the mind and is a blank canvas for creating culinary pieces of art.

About Sabina Bastias, Wilson County, NC

Sabina is an innovative food maven from Nashville, TN. She graduated cum laude from the University of Colorado with degrees in Environmental Studies and Geography. Sabina is a strong advocate for food accessibility/justice and has become immersed in food system through multiple avenues. Most recently she has spent time in Wisconsin serving with AmeriCorps Farm2School and helping on the Board of Directors for a start-up food cooperative. She loves every aspect of food, from growing/raising it to hosting massive dinner parties. When not on a farm or in a garden Sabina can be found dancing up a storm, riding bikes or playing soccer. She is serving in Wilson, NC at Beddingfield High school. In this site’s first year with FoodCorps, she will be collaborating closely with Agricultural Education and Culinary Arts teachers to enhance the farm to table link between their programs. She will also be assisting community stakeholders to maintain and expand current nutrition programs and work on procuring more local food for hunger elimination. View all posts by Sabina Bastias, Wilson County, NC→