Strawberries, Arugula and Torpedo Onions Triumph over Cotton Candy

This year at Chesnut Charter Elementary’s Field Day, there were some unique elements at the food station: a pizza baker and a farmstand. Thanks to a $2,300 grant awarded by Georgia Organics through DeKalb County Board of Health’s Obesity Initiative “Communities Putting Prevention to Work,” students and staff were treated to freshly baked pizzas topped with locally grown produce, a portion of which they each took home. The Chesnut Changers conceived of this farm-to-school program to demystify the farmers market experience and discuss the benefits of eating healthy, local food.

Chesnut Elementary’s Garden Leader Carissa Malone delivers freshly harvested herbs from the Chesnut Garden to top the Field Day pizzas.

Where once was a cotton candy machine, now stood a mobile wood-fired oven, whose delicious aromas had the classes coming in droves to see what was for snack. All were offered a square of strawberry-mint-ricotta pizza and a square of arugula-onion-parsley pizza. Chesnut Garden Leader Carissa Malone contributed the herbs from the school garden, while the strawberries, onions and arugula were provided by Dave Bentoski of D&A Farm in Zebulon, Georgia, and Nicolas Donck of Crystal Organic Farm in Newborn, Georgia. Vegans and strawberry-allergic students were accommodated and all got a chance to watch Jonathan of S&J’s Woodfired Pizza at work.

“Guess when this food was picked? Yesterday!”

As they munched away, students contemplated a poster created by the Chesnut Changers at our recent after-school meeting, comparing the distance their vegetables had traveled (about 60 miles) to their usual trip from Florida or the West Coast (from 400 to over 2,300 miles). Chesnut Changers helped explain why local produce is highly nutritious (it ripens on the plant and you eat it before it begins to break down) and better for the environment (it saves fuel and reduces air pollution). Several students were shocked to learn that the produce had been harvested the day before, and tried to estimate how long ago food would have been picked to arrive at Chesnut from the West Coast.

The children turned to wave at Farmer Dave, who had prepared bunches of arugula and onions for the children to take home. As the students lined up to select their produce, Chesnut Changers brought out a second poster, “Growing Arugula,” depicting the seed-to-harvest story of Farmer Dave hard at work.

Chesnut Changer Kindergartener Megan McCloskey tells the story of arugula

Several faces lit up when it was suggested that the fresh produce would make a lovely Mother’s Day present: “That’s a great idea! I’m going to hide mine under my bed and surprise her!” (We advised refrigeration).

To extend education to the home, each child’s produce bag included two handouts: one with local farmers market information and a pizza recipe from Dunwoody author Pattie Baker’s book “Food for My Daughters”; the other with a copy of the DeKalb County Wellness Policy, which recommends that school events include healthy food choices. We hope that this event helps foster support for ever more healthy food offerings at Chesnut Elementary functions.

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Chesnut Changers Thank…

…DeKalb County Board of Health and Georgia Organics for making this farm-to-school experience free of charge to 450 students plus school faculty.

…Farmers Dave Bentoski of D&A Farm and Nicolas Donck of Crystal Organic Farm for growing and harvesting organic strawberries, arugula and onions.

…Chesnut Garden Leader Carissa Malone for donating fresh herbs that the kids planted themselves through her school garden program.

…Jonathan and Sarah of S&J’s Woodfired Pizza for making healthy eating so delicious, and accommodating dietary restrictions.

…Chesnut Changers Teacher Sponsors Ms. Christen Ramo and Ms. Ginna Hobgood for their enthusiasm, time, and rapport with the children, which gets them involved and excited about local, healthy eating.

…Chesnut Charter Elementary Principal Dr. Richard Reid and Assistant Principal Veronica Williams for giving their full support to this new initiative.

Pattie Baker, local author and sustainable living proponent, for graciously allowing us to reprint her homemade pizza recipe.

…Coach Dykema and PTA Leaders for agreeing to implement healthier choices at the Field Day food station.

…Chesnut Charter Council Chair Melissa Marion-Landais for her immediate support and time helping the ecology club develop the grant application.

…Local reporters Tom Oder, Sue Stanton and Joe Earle for attending and/or covering our event (see our In the News page to read their articles).