Back to school…
Marsha, Aidan and I had the pleasure of returning to the Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center (ANLC) today to help serve lunch to their students once again. As you may recall, some months ago Chef Charleen Badman from FnB decided to put on a lunch for the ANLC students so they could see for themselves what farm fresh veggies and dishes made from scratch would taste like for lunch. The lunch was an unbelievable success with the students, teachers and parents alike talking about it long after it was over. She has worked with classes individually teaching them how to infuse olive oil and has enlisted friends like Chef Payton Curry to come in and demonstrate how to make energy bars using unprocessed, natural ingredients. Charleen’s work with the school has opened up a whole dialogue about cooking, gardening and nutrition and she has sparked an interest in the children about where their food comes from and the possibilities of how it can be prepared. She has awakened them to the idea that healthy, nutritious meals can be delicious and enjoyable.
Returning to the school today, I saw that the feverish excitement that I saw last time I helped out Charleen and her crew. Although this time, I also saw that the kids knew a little more about why we were there and what was coming. They were excited not just because this was something new, but because after the last meal we served, they knew that this is something special. They were more willing to try new things and were excited to see items they hadn’t before. Charleen had the whole FnB crew there helping prepare a feast for the last week of school, and had a little extra assistance from Chef Payton Curry and his lovely wife Shantal. We donated a whole host of veggies, from salad bar items including sugar snap peas, radishes, and green beans, to summer squash, honey and strawberries. Marsha and I worked the salad bar, and put Aidan to work handing out lunch trays, since he had already finished up his school year last week. (I told him that I was sure there was a spelling test somewhere in progress on the campus, in case he was missing school, but he didn’t bite.)
It was as crazy as you would expect a school cafeteria to be, especially during the last week of school. But it was an excited buzz, with kids clamoring to see what Charleen had prepared. I heard a chorus of polite “please” and “thank yous” and saw teachers handing over stacks of hand-drawn thank yous from their students. Marsha and I laughed as we heard Payton Curry lecturing those who had decided to skip the salad bar. He persuaded many to rethink that decision. Although the majority of the kids were not just willing to try a salad, they were excited about seeing what we had in season this time. They were also excited that Charleen brought her killer butterscotch pudding. I know I was.
Charleen is one of the most passionate people I know about seeing food travel from the garden to the plate. While she is lighting a fire under the kids, I have also seen one glowing in her. She likes to get her hands dirty, to walk in the fields with Bob and see how different plants are progressing, and suggesting new types of seeds or varieties of vegetable to see if they can grow in our desert climate. I am now seeing her take this same level of interest in teaching good eating to children. This isn’t just about preparing them a meal or teaching a cooking class, this is about starting lifelong habits for understanding, respecting and truly enjoying food.
I am grateful that Charleen asked us to participate again today in serving the students. There is nothing like seeing a second grader with missing front teeth ask for more sugar snap peas, because they are “my favorite-tist!” FnB may be generating all sorts of buzz from foodies and food critics alike, but I think what she has done in the student cafeteria at the Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center is truly a testament to who she is and what she stands for.
(Edible Phoenix has an article in their latest addition after the work Charleen has done at the the school and the first lunch she put on for them. I also wrote a piece about that lunch that was featured on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution site. You can read it here. The site also recently put up an article I did about the school’s gardens, you can read that here.)