Springtime Salad Party
Living in Los Angeles we are very lucky weather wise. We are lucky that we are able to grow food year round. This is a lesson that we always teach in all of our school gardens, warm season and cool season. We love the bounty of the cool season: lettuce, arugula, broccoli, radish, cauliflower, etc. Then we are lucky in the warm season to have tomatoes, pumpkins, eggplant, did I mention tomatoes?
Shortly after the students settle in at the beginning of the year we start our garden classes. In general we try to see every student once a month or once in a six week rotation depending on the school schedule. It is autumn so we start planting all the cool season crops with the students. We do most by seeds and if the plants don’t take because it is 90 degrees in November we drop in plant starts.
Over the course of the autumn and as we move into the winter the kids get to see the stuff grow. There are many lessons surrounding the garden, scavenger hunts for the really young kids to what we would grow if we were to live on Mars for the older kids. Then there are other lessons about nutrition, drought, California agriculture, and so on. So over time they see the changes in the garden. Most of the time very good and sometimes we get aphids and don’t let me get started on the gophers. Which will lead to a whole other lesson and then we talk about the changes in the garden.
Then spring comes and as one season ends it is the beginning of the next. So we have a celebration of all things cool season. We call it a “Salad Party.” At the beginning of the of class we have everyone sit down at the tables (we use table cloths when possible) and I ask if they know what Thanksgiving is. They all generally know and talk about their own experiences that they can relate to. I mention that the trees were red and some even without leaves.
“Do you remember when school started and the beds were empty and we planted all these new plants and seeds?” I say.
“Now look at the trees they are starting to turn green again. If we look at the garden beds they are all full. It is time to harvest and to enjoy all the things that we grew, kind of like Thanksgiving in March.”
We have prepared a bunch of things in advance: wash buckets, salad spinners,harvesting baskets, olive oil, strawberries, citrus fruits and the list goes on. There are usually 4-5 kids that we call chefs are on salad dressing making duties. While our harvesters and farmers are going to pick the salad, wash, then prepare for the chefs. Each of our harvesters are given a small basket and instructed to go around the garden and pick 3-5 leaves. They carefully select lettuce, romaine, arugula, kale, and edible flowers. We wash it carefully not to squeeze the leaves but to turn them like they are giving them a bath. Then harvesters move the clean leaves to the salad spinners and spin away. We then put all the leaves in a big bowl and everyone gets a chance to tear the leaves and make them smaller. We call them “tearers”.
Meanwhile our chefs are making a salad dressing out of blood oranges, lemons, garlic, salt, and a few other ingredients. They also cut up carrots and strawberries to make the salad complete. All the salad dressing goes into a big mason jar when everyone takes turn shaking the jar to mix up the tasty salad dressing.
The big bowl is returned to chefs who dress the salad and add in carrots and strawberries.
It is tossed with big wooden salad claws. Turning this beautiful salad with all the colors would make any 5 star restaurant chef extremely envious.
We have all the kids sit down at the covered tables or on the big bench under the big amber tree. We talk about how other cultures eat with their hands and how it is important to connect with our food. Then I am always reminded that chicken nuggets and pizza are eaten with their hands. Funny how I always forget that that. I like to tell them that in France before they eat they say: “Bon Appetit” which means enjoy your meal in French. I wish them Bon Appetit and then we eat.
There is nothing like seeing a bunch of students eating salad that they prepared. There are some students that don’t like it. Some only like the strawberries. We always encourage everyone to try at least a bite because maybe they will like it. There are often comments like “I don’t like carrots but I am eating them anyway!” or “This is the best salad I have ever eaten and I don’t like salad!” There are many that sit and talk while they eat just enjoying the moment. There are often moments of joy that are so hard to explain. It is almost a feeling that I might just burst from all the goodness.
In the end we have to go back to class and prepare for the next class to come in and we start the process all over again. All of the salad that is not eaten gets fed to the worms in our vermicomposting bins called “Worm Acres - The Hotel for Worms” It is a stacking system. We find that the worms on the first floor are the happiest.
I am very fortunate that I get to experience such joy on a daily basis. It is a joy to see children growing food and enjoying the outdoors.