Learning to think like a chef at Roosevelt Middle School

Posted: Thursday, April 28th 2016


Growing in the Roosevelt Middle School garden.

The school garden program at Roosevelt Middle School, on the north edge of Balboa Park, is cultivating a seed-to-table experience for students and their families. While Roosevelt has collaborated with many outside organizations, including the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, and the US Navy Logistics Unit, a special partnership has sprouted with Slow Food Urban San Diego, a local branch of the international movement that promotes local agriculture and healthy eating.

Last year, Chef Lisa Joy, a Slow Food Urban San Diego board member, began partnering with the Roosevelt “Roots” after-school garden club. Once a month, Chef Joy teaches an interactive lesson based on the Slow Food's "Good" curriculum, using freshly harvested produce from the Roosevelt garden to teach the students about cooking and tasting their homegrown vegetables. Her March lesson showed students why humans cook and the different methods of cooking.

“Think like a chef,” said Joy, a food-service coordinator with UC San Diego Housing, Dining and Hospitality Department.

They tasted a variety of raw and cooked vegetables, including peas and cauliflower, to compare and contrast the flavors and textures. This holistic approach of cooking with garden-grown vegetables engages students and allows them to make important connections about where food comes from. Francisco Garcia, one of the garden coordinators and a Roosevelt social studies and English teacher, says that the partnership with Slow Food Urban San Diego is the best part of the garden program.

The Roosevelt garden began in 2001 with grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education Magnet Schools Assistance Program. Today, Roosevelt students proudly tend a greenhouse and a garden that includes 28 raised beds and four hydroponic tables. Garcia and Deb Christensen, the school's International Baccalaureate coordinator, have weekly meetings with the 30-student garden club.

“As part of the International Baccalaureate Programme (IB), we aim to educate the whole child, and help them realize that what they learn affects the world around them,” said Christensen. “We want our students to become more aware that we are what we eat.”

Outside in the garden, three students harvest giant bok choy and beets. The students often take produce to their families, encouraging scratch-cooking and healthy habits in the home, as well as expanding upon the lessons they learn from Chef Joy.

“I just love plants,” said student Bradford Thomas as he harvests the bok choy and beets, while another student, Eliot Gibbons, said, "It’s fun watching things grow and giving life."

"Gardening is better than therapy," said Garcia. "It’s all about getting dirty and connecting with nature. I love working with kids who feel the same way. It’s an absolute blast of fresh air to work with these eager after-school students on activities that are dear to my heart.”

Through this progressive garden program, the students at Roosevelt are becoming environmentally conscious, skilled in agriculture and enthusiastic connoisseurs of vegetables.

Roosevelt International Middle School offers the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme in order to provide a rigorous, world-renowned curriculum within a globally relevant context. The International Baccalaureate Organization philosophy for the middle school student promotes international awareness and concern with an appreciation for the arts, world languages, music, and design. We also encourage compassion for humanity and a sense of responsibility for community service to create a better and more peaceful world. Our beautiful school is located at the northeast edge of Balboa Park, and we enjoy partnerships with the San Diego Zoo and many museums that our students visit regularly.

San Diego Unified's innovative Farm to School program, part of a national network of Farm to School Programs, promotes healthy eating, sustainability and locally grown fruits and vegetables. It's integrated in the district's award-winning Food and Nutrition Services program, which provides more than 130,000 meals each school day.

If you know an amazing teacher or garden coordinator who deserves to be featured for their efforts in nutrition education in the classroom or school garden, let us know! Email foodcorps@sandi.net with your recommendations. Sign-up to receive the Farm To School newsletter and check out the May edition.

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