A Garden That Teaches – A La Carte Food Column – Central PA Magazine, June 2010

Written by Christine Rudalevige | May 21, 2010 7:23 PM

Twenty-one-year old Dickinson College graduate Kalyn Campbell is determined to play a role in cultivating the next generation of eaters in Central PA.

On an 80-foot-square piece of land on Dickinson’s 180-acre farm in Boiling Springs — located seven miles from campus in Carlisle — Campbell has built a teaching garden. This one space will feature four plots, each designed to bring local elementary, middle and high school children just a bit closer to their food by introducing the tenets and benefits of sustainable farming. When kids come to the garden, Campbell will explain the underlying point of each plot and provide a hands-on opportunity to explore the lesson themselves — like harvesting what they’ll eat for lunch.

The most colorful part of Campbell’s current project is the Rainbow Garden, a plot featuring veggies of all different hues, many of which visiting children may not have known existed or not dared to eat before. The plot glows with purple kohlrabi, white radishes, yellow beets, light green peas and deep green spinach.

“Introducing kids to these varieties, helping them recognize them and getting them excited about eating them should eventually help drive crop sales,” says Campbell. And kids driving crop sales in any direction other than toward the national staples — potatoes, corn and soy — could spur crop rotation on a larger scale.

Crop rotation, also referred to as crop sequencing, is a sound sustainable-agriculture principle because different crops extract and contribute different sets of nutrients and pathogens to and from the ground. So it’s beneficial for both plant and soil to switch it up a bit.

Campbell’s Pizza Garden includes all the elements — outside of the cheese — that go into a standard pizza: wheat for the dough, tomatoes for the sauce, herbs for flavor, and red and yellow peppers and green spinach for the toppings. After a visit here, the children will understand that even their favorite foods come from the ground, and not just from a Domino’s warehouse.

Moving from commerce to history, the Three Sisters’ Garden is grounded in a Native American “plant cooperation” technique that demonstrates how plants — in this case, sweet corn, climbing pole beans and pumpkins — feed off each other to thrive in the same space. The corn stalks provide a stationary shaft around which the beans can wrap themselves as they mature. And in turn, the bean vines steady the corn stalks and fix soil nitrogen levels that corn crops deplete. The pumpkins surround both the beans and the corn at their bases, shading out weeds and decreasing evaporation.

The Pollinator Garden is not just about honey. Farm staff and local beekeeper Jonathan Daniels manages four hives containing tens of thousands of bees that buzz around the farm, and he markets their sweet by-product locally. But Campbell has planted a plethora of flowers — zinnias, black-eyed Susans, daisies and flowering dill and fennel — that attract all sorts of flying pollinators including the local bees, wasps and butterflies. The lesson here is how plants reproduce with a little help from different animals.

If the vegetables don’t rope the kids in, Campbell plans to get a woolly Jersey rabbit. This bonus is not about consumption, though — there is no rabbit stew on the menu. Instead, Campbell will use the bunny to teach children about animal husbandry and wool production.

The farm is a perfect laboratory for students to practice what they learn in the classroom, says Gene Wingert, an instructor in environmental studies and biology at Dickinson. “It can be one of those ‘eureka!’ moments for many of these kids who are currently so far removed from their food sources,” Wingert comments. “It’s concrete proof that we can feed ourselves locally from just a half-acre piece of land.”

Greg Ellerman, a science teacher at the Yellow Breeches Park Drive School, brought 15 middle school students to the farm last fall. The field trip was aligned with a chapter on agriculture and touched on the marking period’s overall “You and the Community” theme.

“It’s a great way to show the students how food is produced locally and sustainably, and seeing the variety of produce was a new experience for many of them,” says Ellerman, adding that the samples — carrots and broccoli — went over big with his crowd.

But as Jennifer Halpin, director of the Dickinson College farm, says, it was difficult for students to traipse around the farm’s vast acreage in order for Campbell to present her various talking points. Halpin co-authored the application for the $4,000 grant Campbell received from the college’s Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education to implement the children’s teaching garden.

“This teaching garden pulls many of those elements into one fun space,” says Halpin. And if Campbell can help children get outside, enjoy themselves and eat better, then she will have hit her target.

recipes to go!

Kohlrabi Latkes

This recipe was adapted from a friend’s mother’s potato latke recipe. She uses a special boxed grater to get her potatoes to the proper consistency, but seeing as the kohlrabi is harder than the potatoes, that justifies using the grating mechanism in the food processor.

Olive oil

Canola oil

4 small or 3 medium white or purple kohlrabies

½ medium-size sweet onion

1 large egg

½ cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Sea salt

In a frying pan with 2-inch high sides, pour about 1 inch of oil, equal parts olive and canola. Heat the oil over medium-high heat to about 350-375°F. While the oil is heating up, remove the ends and peel the skin of the kohlrabi. Push the kohlrabi and the onion through the food processor using the grating mechanism. (You can do this on a box grater, but it will take more time and effort.) Dump these ingredients into a large bowl and add egg, flour and baking powder. Mix thoroughly.

When the oil is hot (it should sizzle wildly when you drop a kohlrabi shred into it), take about 2 Tablespoons of batter in your hand and flatten it into a 2- to 2½-inch round and carefully place it into the hot oil. Three or four latkes should fit in the pan at once. Turn the latkes when they are golden brown on the bottom (about 2-3 minutes) until the second side turns golden brown in the oil. Remove latkes to drain on a paper towel, sprinkling each one with sea salt while they are still very hot. Repeat this process until all the batter is used. Serve immediately with spinach yogurt dip (recipe below). Yields about 8 latkes.

Recipe developed by Christine Rudalevige with input from Kalyn Campbell and Jennifer Halpin

Roasted Beet and Spring Green Salad

1 red beet

1 golden beet

2 teaspoons olive oil

6 sprigs of thyme

4 bay leaves

1 teaspoon whole black pepper

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 Tablespoon sherry vinegar

½ cup walnuts

2 Tablespoons walnut oil

1 teaspoon honey

1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 Tablespoons diced shallots

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

8 cups baby spring greens

4 ounces Saint Agur blue cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Trim either end of the beets so they can stand up when placed in separate small baking pans with 1 teaspoon of olive oil each. Add ½ inch of water, 2 thyme springs, 2 bay leaves and ½ teaspoon whole peppercorns to each pan. To the red beet, add the balsamic vinegar; and to the golden beet, add the sherry vinegar. Cover each pan with aluminum foil and roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until fork-tender. Remove the beets from the cooking liquid and place them in the refrigerator. Once cooled, peel and thinly slice the beets using a mandolin, taking care to keep the beets in a stack.

Toss the walnuts with 1 Tablespoon of the walnut oil, the remaining thyme sprigs, and salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. After roasting, discard the sprigs of thyme and set the walnuts aside.

Dissolve the honey with red wine vinegar. Add the shallots and chopped thyme, and whisk in the remaining walnut oil and ¼ cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Dress greens with vinaigrette. Divide greens and sliced beets evenly among 8 plates and garnish with walnuts and blue cheese. Yields 8 portions.

Recipe by Chef John O’Donnell, associate director of dining services, Dickinson College

Spinach, Cumin and Yogurt Dip

The cumin in this dip gives it some smoke without any fire, so it pleases young and older eaters alike. And it could work with almost any of the vegetables you’ll find in your CSA box in June. We paired it with colorful roasted beet chips as an appetizer and with kohlrabi pancakes as main dish. But it just as easily could be the star of a crudités plate or the interesting filler in a bread-bowl-dip scenario.

6 oz. fresh spinach, washed with thick stems removed

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, dry roasted in a sauté pan and ground with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle (you could use already ground cumin seeds, but you won’t get the full smoky flavor that dry roasting them provides)

12 oz. thick, Greek-style yogurt (nonfat works fine in this recipe)

1½ teaspoons honey

3 Tablespoons milk

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Place medium-size saucepan of salted water over medium-high heat. When water boils, blanch spinach for about 2 minutes and immediately drain spinach. When it is cool enough to handle, squeeze any excess water from the spinach. Chop the spinach quite finely and place it in a medium size-bowl. Add roasted cumin powder, yogurt, honey and milk and combine thoroughly. Let the mixture sit about 30 minutes for the flavors to meld before tasting it and adding the salt and pepper. Yields about 1-3/4 cups of dip.

Roasted Beet Chips

So you think you don’t like beets? These chips, in combination with the spinach, cumin and yogurt dip, just might change that preference. Par-cooking the sliced beets helps them finish more evenly in the oven. Check them often, as the sugar content in beets means they can burn very easily, even at low oven temperatures.

3 large beets, trimmed at both ends and scrubbed clean

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. (A convection oven can be used to shorten the cooking time but requires that you check the beets more frequently for doneness.) Slice the beets in 1/8-inch-thick rounds (a mandolin does this job very well). Place medium-size saucepan over medium heat and combine water and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil and stir so that the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and add the beets, allowing them to sit in the water for about 15 minutes. Drain the beets completely and dry them on paper towels.

Toss the beets in the olive oil and lay them out in a single layer on baking sheets. Sprinkle a small amount of sea salt on each beet slice. Place sheets in the oven and bake. At the 15-minute mark, turn the beets over and return them to the oven. At the 30-minute mark, turn the beets again. At the 45-minute mark, the beet slices should start turning in on themselves and begin to get crisp. If they are not there yet, return them to oven and check at 5-minute intervals. Don’t expect the chips to be completely crisp while still in the oven, as they crisp up more fully as they cool. Yields about 1½ to 2 cups of beet chips.

Fresh Radish and Chive Salad

Puts an Asian spin on the radish and chive salad featured in many Mennonite cookbooks published in Central PA. The addition of the sesame oil helps smooth out both the bitterness of the radish and the bite of the chive. Preparation is as simple as slice, snip and stir, making it a perfect complement to grilled meats on a hot summer evening.

12 large red radishes, scrubbed clean, trimmed and sliced in half moons

½ cup of fresh chives, snipped with kitchen shears into ½-inch lengths

2 Tablespoons sesame oil

1 Tablespoon rice vinegar

½ teaspoon Thai fish sauce

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Place sliced radishes and snipped chives into a serving bowl. In a second smaller bowl combine sesame oil, rice vinegar, fish sauce and pepper, and whisk until the mixture emulsifies. Just prior to serving, mix the vinaigrette thoroughly with the radishes and chives. Serve immediately. Yields four ½ cup servings.


Published in A La Carte

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