Learning Through Food

By Justin Ficken | May 13, 2013
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Kids at the Waldorf School in Cape Cod garden for school lunch

Waldorf School’s Farm-to-School Lunch Program

For many people on Cape Cod, thoughts turn to gardening with the arrival of spring. The anticipation of the season is perhaps no less exciting to anyone else than the students at the Waldorf School of Cape Cod (WSCC), which I discovered when asked to check out what Chef Creighton Peet was up to there. I didn’t know what a Waldorf school was. Little did I know that I would be treated to a visual (and mind-opening) experience.

During my visit to WCSS, nestled in charming Cotuit, I was warmly welcomed by Amy Galvam, the school’s Enrollment Director. She treated me to a tour of the facility, which offers curriculum for students in preschool through grade eight. The school, which was founded in 1984 by a small group of devoted parents, boasts a total of 117 students with a small yet extraordinarily dynamic team of faculty and staff.

Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf Education is based on a profound understanding of human development that addresses the needs of the growing child. Waldorf teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head. Steiner’s belief that “teaching is an art” is the backbone to WSCC’s mission statement.

One of the core pieces of the WSCC curriculum is genuine get-your-hands-dirty gardening. Among the beliefs of gardening is that students learn that it provides an avenue for reconnection with the land in which they live. The end result of this gardening is food, which the students harvest themselves: vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Until Chef Peet stepped in with his project, what was harvested and wasn’t consumed by the students was sent home. As a parent to two students at WSCC, Chef Peet oftentimes came home after a grueling night’s work to small bags of produce awaiting in his own kitchen.

Looking for what he felt would be a better quality of life, one that would allow him more time with his family, Chef Peet came up with what he thought would be a better way to make use of the WSCC’s harvests. With the blessing of both faculty and the students’ parents, Chef Peet spearheaded the school’s unique farm-to-school lunch program, turning in his life as a restaurant chef, and becoming one of WSCC’s newest staff members.

Chef Peet is perhaps best known or remembered as the Executive Chef of the (former) Roo Bar in Falmouth. My first impression of Chef Peet was similar to many other chefs I’ve met throughout my personal experiences—imposing, almost intimidating. He is tall and built, with a firm voice. Physically, there is no doubting the fact he’s effectively managed frenetic crews of bustling restaurant kitchens, hell-bent on serving hundreds of quality dinners in an evening. Once again, like most chefs I’ve met before, trying to catch Chef Peet in a still moment is like getting a cat in a bathtub—certainly not easy.

In large part, Chef Peet is a one-man kitchen crew. While he heavily relies upon some invaluable help in the morning with baking and then later in the afternoon with cleanup, Chef Peet is the purchaser, the sous chef, the line cook, the executive chef, and the expediter.

Chef Peet’s vision would have no chance of fruition without the encouragement and participation of WSCC’s staff. Kim Allsup, currently teaching third grade (at WSCC, teachers continue with the same group of children from pre-school through eighth grade), is the school’s gardening teacher. Ms. Allsup explained to me how the students at WSCC feel a huge sense of reward for their work in the garden. Weeding, planting, cultivating and harvesting are all done by the students. Not only do the students get plenty of exercise, they learn the value of work and come to embrace it!

Hard work in the garden has certainly paid off for the students at WSCC, even earning them a bit of notoriety. In the fall of 2011, the students were featured in The Cape Cod Times for harvesting a 2.2-pound carrot. CCT reporter Eric Williams wittily referred to it as an edible fence post. What did Chef Peet do with the carrot once it was harvested? He made carrot slaw, of course.

As Chef Peet’s program developed, Ms. Allsup explained that the gardening evolved a bit as well. In years past, most harvesting was conducted in July and August by students (and parents). With the lunch program in place now, most harvesting is conducted in September, where the harvest can be utilized in the menu.

Perhaps this year, certainly no later than next year, Chef Peet will have fresh honey to work with, as Ted Curtin, WSCC’s grade four teacher, has creatively incorporated beekeeping in line with the grade four’s zoology curriculum. With materials for the hive boxes graciously donated by Diane Kovanda, Director of Kind Yoga School here on the Cape, the students were in the midst of constructing the boxes during my visits. Mr. Curtin is thrilled that the students have the opportunity to build the environment for the bees, eventually draw the honey and learn more about how bees, as the most effective pollinators in the world, are an invaluable resource to agricultural productivity.

Future plans for the expansion of the school’s gardening program include its most ambitious project yet: the construction of a hoop house. Fundraising is well under way, and once total funding needs are met, the students and teachers will have a warm, bright, albeit simple greenhouse in which to enjoy a ten- to eleven-month growing season. The educational aspects of the hoop house are enormous as the students will truly learn about seedling care and plant growth. This is more eloquently stated by Ms. Allsup: “Stepping into a hoop house on a sunny day in February is like stepping into a magical realm. The moist air is sweet with scents of soil and hints of spring. Jackets are shed, sleeves are rolled up, and simple work beckons.” Ms. Allsup further shares, “They learn how to care for plants, and about the importance of supporting local farmers.” Chef Peet is very much looking forward to bumper crops of spinach, melons, lettuce, carrots, mustard greens, chard and broccoli, among others.

Chef Peet has become a favorite of the students and parents. The students appreciate how he incorporates their harvest (i.e., their hard work) into a tasty meal. Chef Peet’s school lunch is entirely optional; students can elect to purchase only on particular days, can enroll for the full year, or choose not to partake at all. WSCC parents appreciate how Chef Peet has gotten their children to eat a variety of vegetables in different ways. Participation has increased every year, with a current rate of roughly 80%.

Chef Peet’s menu is readily available and is posted on the school’s website (www.waldorfschoolofcapecod.org). You may be surprised to learn that young students are being served Moroccan winter squash and carrot stew with quinoa, or bowtie pasta with barley, edamame and caramelized onions. Whenever possible (where the budget permits), Chef Peet sources local organic ingredients. Chef Peet’s school lunch can cost as low as $4.00 per lunch with a full-year enrollment. I urge you to try to find a similar quality lunch for the same cost. I can’t.

Aside from the fact that the school lunch menu is a virtual culinary trip around the world, the way lunch is actually served at WSCC is unique. Every day, lunch is wheeled into each classroom. The students eat at their desks amongst their follow classmates and teachers. One of the days I visited was Tuesday, soup day, and out came the crock pots! Wednesday, perhaps the most popular day, is pizza day. Every Friday, Chef Peet bakes a low-sugar, all natural dessert. Any leftovers are usually packaged and purchased at the end of the day by WSCC parents and staff.

Clearly, there is something uniquely special going on at WSCC. As Ms. Allsup puts it, “Students aren’t gardening to solve the problems of the world, but rather for the love of work.” This love of the work coupled with the embracing of Chef Peet’s lunch program is the reason why the students at WSCC anxiously await the arrival of spring as much as anyone else on Cape Cod. In Chef Peet’s mind, the farm-to-school lunch program offers limitless possibilities for learning through food.

For more information on the Waldorf School of Cape Cod, including dates and times of future open houses, visit the school’s website. There you can learn how to make a donation towards the construction of the hoop house. Also, at this time the school is accepting applications for future enrollment.

Waldorf School of Cape Cod

140 Old Oyster Road, Cotuit

508-420-1005

Justin Ficken, a self-described foodie and wine geek, is sales representative for Horizon Beverages, an importer of premium wines and spirits. He lives in YarmouthPort with his stunning wife Marcy Egan, three charming stepkids and two dogs.

Article from Edible Cape Cod at http://ediblecapecod.ediblecommunities.com/things-do/learning-through-food
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