The farm-to-table approach in the kitchen has been the latest trend to grow across the nation, and the students of the Jordan Road School have caught on.
For the second year, nearly 35 students from the Family and Consumer Science, or FCS, Club joined together to enjoy the fruits of their labor in their Kids Are Cookin' event at Sandi Pointe Coastal Bistro.
The seventh- and eighth-graders from the Somers Point school, with the help of teachers and the staff of Sandi Pointe, prepped, cooked and served a three-course meal to family, friends and Jordan Road School staff members, featuring organic vegetables from the school's on-site community garden.
Sandi Pointe owner Dan Anderson, who lent the restaurant's facilities to the students, is among the first to recognize the importance of such an event. Anderson himself visited the school to institute the idea of a community garden, a plan that was already in the back of school officials' minds.
He listed the significance of planting seeds, the intrinsic value of harvesting and, finally, seeing a final product.
"The lessons are just unbelievable," he said.
The group of students, who visited the restaurant's facilities beforehand, learned the rules of a commercial kitchen and a fast-paced environment, said executive chef Robert Bell, who was assisting that night.
"It gives (the children) good exposure to the restaurant industry," Bell said. "So much of what is going on in the restaurant industry is farm-to-table, so we are just embracing that through taking what they have grown and implementing it and building a menu around it."
The menu, which included a garden vegetable soup, eggplant parmesan, saut�ed spinach and mushrooms, angel hair pasta and a peach and berry cobbler, featured eggplants, celery and herbs directly from the garden, said science teacher Liz Lichtenstein, one of the head coordinators of the event.
"When students plant a seed that turns to a vegetable that they eat, the learning potential is infinite," Lichtenstein said.
Last year, only herbs were available to add to the dinner, but this year the harvest was plentiful, due in part to money raised from last year's dinner, a minigrant from the Somers Point Foundation for Education and an AtlantiCare grant, Lichtenstein said.
"Students volunteered Saturdays and after school to build the raised beds, fill the beds with soil, construct the pathways, plant the seeds and care for the garden plants," Lichtenstein said of the garden's construction, which began last November.
Mimi Lynch, family and consumer science teacher and co-coordinator of the event, also reaped the benefits of the garden, using its ingredients to make everything from spinach wraps to pumpkin dip, with her FCS Club. She said the garden-to-table concept helps her teach her students healthy habits.
"Part of my role is to encourage my kids to eat healthy. It helps by getting them involved in growing it and then cooking it and then they will taste it and realize it's not that bad," the vegan teacher said of using fruits and vegetables in her recipes. "I truly believe that if we give them the right choices they are going to eat healthier."
The soldout fundraiser filled every seat in the restaurant's ballroom, as the nearly 150 guests sat waiting to be served their first entree by students dressed in aprons and chef hats.
The teachers stressed the point that the students were here as volunteers, each with their own assigned responsibility, from hosting to musical entertainment.
Eighth-grader Mason Barrella, 14, was happy to prepare the pasta, fry eggplant and cut mushrooms that night. The FCS Club member helped out last year and was more than willing to do it all again.
"I'd like to own a restaurant and be the head chef," the student admitted of his future aspirations.
Classmate Eddie Henry, 14, was also happy to lend his help for a second year.
"My favorite part is when everyone in the community, all the families, get together and we get to make this special dinner," he said.
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