Ghost town

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Stopped by school today, with less than a week before teachers head back.  It is a bit of a ghost town, maybe due to the crews that come through over the summer to rewax the floors, or the summer program which “borrows” the building for a month but without any reference points on where things belong.  It takes me a few extra days to put the furniture and equipment back, repaint the chalkboard (which I may not get to this time) and see what’s what. A good time to get mentally ready.

And then every year, I notice the reality that I may find things out of place like that ghost town, but it still feels pretty desolate once I’ve put them back.  Being a school where students catch up on credits means people blow through here in comparison to a regular high school.  It is amazing that we can even build the relationships we do with our students, with the shift change tempo of our quarter based school year.  But I know the family feel of the school will come back, it does every year, a real tribute to the value of our students.  And that means when they are not there, it is pretty empty.

So I went home and immediately got out more seeds to plant.  A good cure for desolation.  Now that I’ve figured out a useful purpose for those egg cartons, my back deck is starting to look like a nursery.  Whatever we can do to keep things lively! The sprouts pictured are sunflowers (thank you Will Allen & his Good Food Revolution).  Put 1/4 cup in a quart mason jar and you get almost a quart of sprouts in about a week.  To eat.  Small satisfactions really count on days like these.

Garden redux

idabgarden 06262014 webI’m learning that the garden at Ida B. has had many people come through and grow food – from beautiful examples for after school programs to intentionally farming to see how much will grow.  The amount of donated hours put in, are just amazing and humbling. It has been hard to find a way to consistently support this important effort in the chaotic nature of our school.

So it was with some fear that I ventured into the garden towards the end of June to help Stephen, who has been still hanging in there with this garden since NOPA owners and employees came through and really cleaned things up a few years ago.  He is out there for so many good reasons, and sets one of those examples that will keep me humble – and grateful.

Why fear?  Well, truth be told, I love growing food, but given the choice between gardening and cooking, you will find me where I’ve had more success, the kitchen.  Also, having been at Ida B. for over 5 years, I’ve learned that summer on this hill is reminiscent of those scenes of stormy seas, with seamen braving the force of nature at the prow of their wavering ship.  You stand at the top of this garden and have to hold on, the wind is so strong.  But Stephen has plans this year, do you see those wooden boxes, patiently waiting for starts to protect?  I think there is some magic going on down there, to work with the literal forces of nature. Magic that our school needs to learn how to support more this time.  I’m realizing that whether or not I have a green thumb, it’s time to spend more efforts in the garden and prepare our students for the importance of growing our own food.   And after a few weeks away, I’m eager to see what it looks like now.  More soon.

Garden Magic

This is a super cool project that is suddenly happening:

  • Take one fabulously sustainable & deliciously friendly restaurant (NOPA) with many caring employees;
  • Add in a nearby high school in need of care and community (Ida B. Wells);
  • Sprinkle with super-kind restaurant owners and garden loving administration;
  • And dig and plant and water.

This is so new, many of our students aren’t aware of it, or the amazing potential for all of us to grow and connect.  We are looking forward to getting more involved in the weeks ahead.  NOPA, we may be speechless in our appreciation at the moment, but get ready for some fun with us in the future!  Thank you so much for your efforts!

The Harvest May 2010

A corner of our school garden
 thanks to the creative efforts of Urban Sprouts!

It is the last week of classes and our garden at school has been bursting into bloom: poppies, artichokes, cauliflower, chard, parsley, nasturtium.  Just in time for the bees in our new beehive to feel welcome.

We picked some of the chard on a rainy Monday, a few edible blossoms, the mint and a few herbs, trying not to strip the plants on one hand or harvest too little to allow everyone to taste on the other.

We headed inside and made some fresh mint tea, delicious!  And started another harvest, talking about what worked this year in our Culinary Arts class, and what didn’t work (of course while keeping our hands busy making a filling for empanadas with our harvest).  Here are some of the responses:

Curriculum Keeper #1: That meal we cooked last week:

Chicken Piccatta
Mashed Potatoes
Chard and Chard Stem Sauteed with Garlic

They liked it for its ease and deliciousness (“We could make this at home”).  I was stopped for a quick review on the spot, a double-check on how to cook chard this way.

Curriculum Keeper #2: All the pastas, and our housemade chicken sausage that went into the tomato sauce. Extrusion and mortar & pestles are cool. They have been cool for a very, very long time.

Curriculum Keeper #3: Pastel Tres Leches – and this was from those new to this classic but was also chorused by those who already knew this dessert.  After our weeks of making desserts for events, I was surprised they chose this easy, refreshingly sweet cake.

Some suggestions:

  • More on food values
  • More food we can make at home
  • Teach us more on how to be waiters

And when we got into the don’ts, it was hard to pin down a specific item not to make again. A few students mentioned a recipe that they may not have liked personally, only to find the person next to them loved it. It was great to be able see all the smiles through this – now that we were all speaking with some authority, it remained an enjoyable discussion.

The next day I received a thank you note from one of my students:

Dear Ms. Chef Cravens:
I thank you for your kind help in cooking class.  I have discovered that one does not have to be born with a skill to make delicious food.  It comes from the love you put in the food – and I built friendship with people I thought I’d never talk to.

Perhaps I’ve received the best harvest of all this year. Have a great summer everyone!