Culinary School Students Bring Farm-to-Table Movement to Classroom

Aug 19, 2013

Culinary School Students Bring Farm-to-Table Movement to Classroom

As the farm-to-table movement has grown in this country, new generations are learning the pleasures of eating locally-grown food, of knowing where your food comes from and what was done to it before it hit your plate. Chef Bergstrom, Program Director for Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College, in Greenville, South Carolina, has brought that movement to his campus with a garden club for students.

"I had the idea that I had to show our culinary students where their food came from," Chef Mark says. "I wanted to show them the healthy side of things and how to grow food sustainably. There's so much that happens to our food in the industry, it's wonderful to show students what healthy food really is. It's a great teaching tool."

Chef Mark says students were excited about breaking new ground with the garden club. Student Beverly Stewart joined the club a week after beginning classes at Culinard. "I wanted to learn how things grow," she says. Beverly, like a few other students, had grown up helping in family gardens. Other students were experiencing the joy of gardening for the first time.

After selecting a prime location for the garden, the club went to work building and grading the four feet by eight feet raised beds. The first planting included tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, zucchini and lemongrass—all from local seeds.

The garden is tended every day by Culinard students. They pull weeds, add compost, water and harvest. Along the way, they learn not just the practical skills of tending a garden, but how sustainability efforts make the products of that garden healthier and tastier.

At planting time, students placed newspaper on the bottom of the beds. This method reduces weeds and very little water is required as the newspaper traps water underneath. Chef Mark says this practice also makes for healthier plants with deeper roots.

Chef Mark says the club uses no chemicals and no pesticides on the garden. A mixture of vinegar and water is used to kill weeds, egg shells are scattered on the beds to deter ants. Ice sculptures from the grand buffet get a second life used to water the gardens. No food scraps go to waste. "We fill the beds with our very own dirt made from compost we collect throughout the days we are in class," Beverly says. Plastics and aluminum cans are recycled. Students also pay it forward: The club recycles cardboard for a local mentoring program that teaches children to read and helps people working to get GEDs.

Chef Mark says the students now want to share their knowledge with others. Many have started gardens at home, and they're currently putting together a model that other campuses can use to create their own gardens.

Beverly Stewart says she got much more out of the garden club that just learning about growing and planting. "Garden club was really fun," she says. "We all got to work together and make beautiful things happen."

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