PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — You’ve probably heard of the “farm to table” food trend, which is growing in popularity.
But, some local schools have been doing it for 13 years, and with the help of Grow Pittsburgh, they’re bringing their food from “garden to table.”
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The students at Dilworth Traditional Academy, one of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ elementary schools in East Liberty, had no idea how lucky they were to get a fresh cooked meal from one of Pittsburgh’s top chefs – Bill Fuller.
He’s the head chef of the Big Burrito Restaurant Group, including restaurants Eleven, Soba and Mad Mex, and he was just named Pittsburgh Magazine’s “Chef of the Year.”
Every year, Fuller cooks for the kids using ingredients they grow in their garden, supplemented by more of the same ingredients, and he shows them how gardening connects with cooking.
The annual Chef in the Garden program happens in small groups over two days, as Fuller cooks for all 450 children at the school.
“We’re gonna make a fresh tomato marinara with garlic and basil and spinach,” he tells the children after they walk through the school garden and to the area where he’s cooking. Fuller tells colorful stories about Popeye and spinach, astrology and gemelli pasta, vampires and garlic, and he teaches too.
“The French word ‘to jump’ is saute, s-a-u-t-e, saute,” Fuller explains, as he sautes the tomatoes.
Fuller’s been cooking for Dillworth kids ever since his own daughter was in kindergarten at the school 13 years ago.
“I started out because it was a school volunteer thing, but I persisted because a lot of people don’t get enough to eat, and one of the ways you can feed people is helping them learn to cook for themselves,” he says.
He knows what it’s like to not have enough food, growing up a poor kid in a poor town.
“We struggled with food,” Fuller says. “There were Salvation Army Christmases where the Salvation Army would bring a box to us for Christmas dinner.”
Cooking with fresh produce is thriftier and healthier, and as the kids find out, tastier too.
“It tastes fresh and good,” a first-grade boy says after trying the food Fuller made.
“I thought it was really good. I had never had anything just like this,” a fifth-grade girl adds.
The garden is a big part of the school. Not only do the kids plant and tend to all the vegetables and flowers, they also incorporate it into their classroom curriculum.
Jim Rowell. Director of School Gardens for Grow Pittsburgh, says, “We work very closely with the teachers to incorporate the garden into the curriculum. They make connections with math, reading, journaling, arts, science.”
A Grow Pittsburgh expert works full-time with the teachers at Dilworth and Pittsburgh Faison — Pittsburgh city schools where many kids don’t have gardens at home.
Dilworth is one of four flagship schools where garden educators work full-time at the schools. There are 18 more schools that are part of Grow Pittsburgh’s “learning garden program,” where the school takes over management of the garden.
They also offer consultation and support to many more schools around the region that are interested in outdoor classrooms and gardens, and they welcome new schools.
You can learn more about this and other unique ways of learning by going to kidsburgh.org – an online resource for kids and families.