GSOYP 2014-’15: Food Literacy Project to Benefit Public School Students, Community

GARDEN STATE (CHARD) ON YOUR PLATE: From left, Smitha Haneef, Executive Director, Campus Dining; Rob Harbison, Executive Chef; the Princeton Tiger; Brad Ortega, Chef Manager; and Rick Piancone, Chef Manager (not pictured) are kicking off the Garden State on Your Plate program at all four public elementary schools in Princeton with a spotlight on Swiss chard grown by Jess Niederer, owner of Chickadee Creek Farm in Pennington.

GARDEN STATE (CHARD) ON YOUR PLATE: From left, Smitha Haneef, Executive Director, Campus Dining; Rob Harbison, Executive Chef; the Princeton Tiger; Brad Ortega, Chef Manager; and Rick Piancone, Chef Manager (not pictured) are kicking off the Garden State on Your Plate program at all four public elementary schools in Princeton with a spotlight on Swiss chard grown by Jess Niederer, owner of Chickadee Creek Farm in Pennington.

PRINCETON, NJ — The Princeton School Gardens Cooperative, a food literacy nonprofit, has received $12,000 in funding from the Office of Community and Regional Affairs at Princeton University to expand its farm-to-school program to all four of the town’s public elementary schools. This garden- and food-based effort will reach the district’s 1,320 K-5 students and their families as well as the teachers and staff members at the schools.

Princeton Garden State on Your Plate, begun as a pilot at two schools in 2010 with a $30,000 grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is a palate education and culinary education program that brings local chefs into lunchrooms to serve tastings of recipes using seasonal foods grown by farmers within New Jersey’s foodshed. The program also provides posters, classroom- and garden-based lessons and videos created by Megan McKeever, manager of the Princeton Farmers Market.

“We are pleased to be sponsoring the Princeton Garden State on Your Plate program this year so that the reach of this innovative and exciting initiative can be expanded to give all K-5 students in the Princeton Public Schools an opportunity to learn more about healthy eating, “ said Erin Metro, associate director for community relations at Princeton University.

In a key advance for the program and for all the students, Nutri-Serve, the new food service management company for Princeton Public Schools, will participate alongside chefs during the program and will serve spotlighted produce on the hot lunch line for all grades, K-12.

“It’s really amazing to see everyone’s efforts coming together for the students of Princeton,” said Joel Rosa, Nutri-Serve Food Director of Princeton. “It demonstrates with great emphasis the importance of eating nutritiously. As advocates of serving advantageous foods to children, Nutri-Serve takes great pleasure in being a part of this years’ Garden State On Your Plate program and we look forward to featuring spotlighted produce on our lunch lines.”

Steve Cochrane, superintendent of Princeton Public Schools, agrees. “Food literacy is multifaceted,” he said. “It provides us with knowledge of optimal nutrition and performance. It expands our understanding of science, sustainability, and world culture. It inspires in us the desire to explore new flavors in the company of family and friends.

“I am delighted that our friends at Princeton University have joined with the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative, with chefs from throughout our community, and with Nutri-Serve, our new food service provider, to teach food literacy – in all its dimensions – to the children of the Princeton Public Schools.”

The lunchtime program leads off in October with Smitha Haneef, executive director of Campus Dining and Rob Harbison, executive chef of Campus Dining at Princeton University, dishing up Swiss chard grown by Jess Niederer, owner of Chickadee Creek Farm of Pennington, NJ. For November, Terry Strong, chef of Mediterra, will prepare and serve mushrooms grown by Phillips Mushroom Farm of Kennett Square, PA, and cheeses made by Eran Wajswol of Valley Shepherd Creamery of Long Valley, NJ. The program resumes in April, with Chris Graciano of Witherspoon Grill serving asparagus grown by Pam, Gary and Tannwen Mount of Terhune Orchards in Princeton. It finishes up in May, with Josh Thomsen, executive chef of Agricola, serving radishes grown by Steve Tomlinson of Great Road Farm of Skillman.

The original pilot proved to be wildly popular, surprising many parents whose children arrived home with recipes, information sheets and new cravings for dark leafy greens, garden salads with pea tendrils, and multicolored vegetables.

Beets were a particular favorite. Elementary school students held raw-beet eating contests after first scientifically exploring flavors, textures and other qualities of red, gold and white beets and sampling them boiled, pureed in a soup with orange, and raw, with salt and with lemon.

Swiss chard, a cousin to beets, was a natural choice for the first Garden State on Your Plate tasting of the 2014 school year, since it had already been chosen as the spotlight vegetable by local chefs, restaurateurs and food-based businesses for the 2014 Food Day celebration on October 24. In solidarity, chard was planted at the JW Middle School Garden and at other campus gardens as well during springtime.

The Garden State on Your Plate program rollout began with an appearance of Chardy, a costumed character created by Princeton costume designer Amanda Sharp, who distributed postcards adorned with a vivid portrait of Swiss chard painted by Olivia Giblin, a YMCA summer camper, at JazzFeast recently. It will be followed by a photo campaign featuring Princeton personalities and their chard and by Food Day, with food-based businesses serving and selling chard. The program is coordinated by Fran McManus, a founder of Princeton School Gardens Cooperative.

“Bringing good, healthy food into elementary schools, and encouraging an appreciation of good, healthy food among students, are among the most important things we can do to build a culture of health in our country, said Steve Downs, a Princeton Public Schools parent and facilitator of the original grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where he is chief technology and information officer. “I’m delighted to see that Princeton University is making this generous contribution to support the Garden State on Your Plate program.”