Farm, Cooking School Combine to Explore the Possibilities of a Garden

By / Photography By Paige Funkhouser | March 15, 2017
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Kids cooking school experience includes farm and gardens
Students checking out the farm and gardens is part of the cooking school experience.

Crinkled up noses and puckered mouths contrasted the “It’s kinda good” and “This tastes good for me” exclamations as a gaggle of kids and a few adults sampled an aronia berry.

It had just been plucked fresh off a bush at the Hidden Acres Farm & Beach Road Community Gardens in Sister Bay. This small group of eager garden explorers sniffed, touched and sampled fresh-from-the-earth vegetables, some of which they would be using to cook their own lunch down the road at Savory Spoon Cooking School.

Kids at The Savory Spoon cooking school in Ellison Bay
Kids dive into food preparation at The Savory Spoon in Ellison Bay

Farm interns and sisters Anna Zasada and Emily Rehberger tune the students into the natural world around them with a nature bingo game. They hike from the front acreage of the Beach Road Community Gardens to the back three acres of the working, organic and locally-selling Hidden Acres Farm (HAF). Students search the plants and flowers for such creatures as bees and butterflies, crawling or scampering creatures or red bark and lichen on branches.

“The game involves movement that is really fun for the kids,” said Anna. “You’re outside, so it makes sense to have everybody moving around, and it’s an opportunity for the kids of such varying levels to stay on track.”

Kale ‘palm trees’ stand at attention about knee high next to Tom Horsley, farm manager of HAF. He first asks the students if they have tasted kale and a surprising number raise their hands.

“You want to pick kale from the bottom up,” Tom said, plucking a leaf from the bottom of the spread. “It should look like a palm tree as it grows new leaves at the top.

Back in the kitchen of Savory Spoon Cooking School in Ellison Bay, owner Janice Thomas takes on the prep cook role as Anna and Emily walk the students through the doughy process of making noodles. Janice teamed up three years ago with Anna, who led the classes by herself in 2015. For 2016, Anna brought in Emily, proclaiming that Emily “knows everything about gardening and growing.” She teaches classes on gardening at Edible Schoolyard in Brooklyn, New York. Anna taught children’s cooking classes in Chicago.

“We had a saying when I was teaching at the cooking school: If kids can grow kale, and cook kale, then they’ll eat kale,” Anna said. “Even the pickiest of eaters, if they can grow it, and are involved in the cooking process, they’re much more likely to eat it.”

HAF/Savory Spoon class lessons center around the available produce in the garden, ready produce the kids will each have an opportunity to harvest. Everybody likes a chance to pick something.

“With kids or any picky eater, if they’re going to try new flavors, keep something about it that’s familiar and comfortable,” Anna explained.

Lunch is underway at Savory Spoon, as each table of three students chop cioppolini onions, bell peppers, rainbow carrots, garlic, zucchini, and roma tomatoes into bite sized pieces to go into a veggie marinara sauce. As the students sliced mushrooms, Anna and Emily explained umami – the savory taste experienced with such foods as anchovies, mushrooms and mature cheeses. Squeals of delight and gross-outs were heard around the room as the students started smashing stewed tomatoes with their hands for the sauce, followed by the satisfactory ripping of basil leaves.

“The first year of the children’s classes there was one mother watching her son cook and she was kind of teary,” said Janice. “I asked her why she was crying. She said ‘My son never eats anything green.’ And he was eating a kale Caesar salad he’d made. If the kids make it, they’ll eat it.”

Hidden Acres Farm and Community Garden grow using organic practices. Which means insects are a reality to contend with that is an exciting experience for some kids, and a gross out factor for others.

“When we were teaching one of the classes last summer, Japanese beetles were everywhere, so we showed the kids that we squish them between our fingers as we move along the plant rows, because we don’t have time for anything else,” Anna said. “Some of the kids, it didn’t weird them out. Others freaked out at the crunching noise and smell.”

Janice uses her own story when kids (and adults) ask about insects on their food.

“I tell a story about picking apples in an organic orchard. I was heading into one orchard with my basket. A woman there told me, ‘There’s no need to come into this orchard, the apples are filled with worms.’ And I said, ‘Well, if the apples are good enough for the worms, they’re good enough for me.’”

The Savory Spoon and Hidden Acres Farm pairing works beautifully for Thomas, as her cooking school's menus are set months in advance.

“If I do a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share, and they bring me a big box, that produce might not fit into my class,” Thomas explained. “If you go to farmers market, you get there and it seems like all the farmers have the same thing, because it’s seasonal. So, I said to Tom (Rehberger, owner of Hidden Acres Farm) whatever you have a glut of, I’ll take the extra and add an improvisation portion to my classes. Any of my students going to the farmers market will encounter the same thing.”

An improv example of Thomas’ is using root vegetables. Roasting is one of her favorite uses: garlic, savory herbs, or sweetened with additions such as maple syrup. When greens are coming in, people often overload on making one thing, such as kale chips. Thomas shows options such as braising, or searing kale, then using that kale on a pizza or in an omelet.

“I tell my adult classes this: It’s your responsibility to teach a young person you know how to make one thing in the kitchen,” Thomas said. “Why? So they can be comfortable and confident in the kitchen, and have something they feel passionate and confident about.”

Hidden Acres Farm is constantly growing and changing. A new processing kitchen was installed during the winter to help with cleaning, sorting and packing produce.

“The beautiful thing I’ve learned from watching my parents grow and create this space, is to never say never,” Anna said. “None of us had any idea Hidden Acres would be this when they started it. We are working to create useful and welcoming space for inviting in the community, to serve community activities.”

Registration for the children’s cooking classes at Savory Spoon opens in April; classes are targeted to seven to eleven year olds.

Anna and Emily are plotting out the classes, and brainstorming with farm manager Tom Horsley on timing the classes with different produce availability.

“This summer, I want the students to dig into the garden more,” Anna said thoughtfully. “Have kids take ownership of planting something, start a project together as a class, and finish it. Then when they bring their families back weeks or months later, they’ll see their project incorporated into the garden.”

To register for the children’s cooking class, check out after April 1.

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