Dexter Farm to School has had a very busy fall season and we are so thankful for all of the wonderful students that have participated in planting, harvesting, processing and cooking with us!
Creekside flex students harvested the last of the veggies from the school gardens this week. So far this year, students have harvested over 370 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. Students have harvested late fall veggies that included carrots, rutabagas, pumpkins, lettuce and Swiss chard. They have prepared and cooked mini eggplant sandwiches, veggie quesadillas, fresh carrots and dip, salsa, pumpkin cookies, raspberry smoothies, and veggie pizza. Yum!
Fall is also the time of the year to prepare our garden beds for winter and this year we enlisted the help of Dexter NHS students to help with the process and they were amazing! They cleaned out garden beds and incorporated compost into our soil to bring back much needed nutrients and microorganisms for spring planting. Flex students also planted garlic and will mulch the asparagus beds and strawberries in the coming days to help protect these plants from frigid temperatures.
Some of the veggies that are harvested in our gardens go directly to our school cafeterias. Dexter Farm to School has an amazing relationship with Dexter Food and Nutrition and we are always looking for creative ways to incorporate fresh and local fruits and veggies into Dexter cafeterias.
The Farm to School Program has sold over 45 pounds of fresh produce to Dexter Food and Nutrition. Vegetables like tomatillos, sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard and bok choi made delicious appearances at Mill Creek, Wylie, Dexter High School and Creekside cafeterias. Dexter cafeterias also featured local apples, nectarines, plums and squash as cafeteria samples or items available for purchase.
As we move into November and colder temperatures, The Dexter Farm to School Program will focus on cooking with garden vegetables that were processed or frozen and other projects like composting, hydroponics and seed saving. We are so grateful for all of the students, teachers, and community members that make this program possible and we are looking forward to this season of Thanks and Giving. Enjoy!
Fall officially begins this Monday, September 22 and the Dexter Farm to School team is ready to share this great season of harvests with Dexter students.
We have finally made it through the shoulder season of not quite summer, not quite autumn with the last harvest of cucumbers, string beans and cherry tomatoes. These beds have been cleared and are ready for some much needed compost and straw to prepare for the winter ahead.
We still have peppers, baby bok choi, carrots, Swiss chard, tomatillos, slicer tomatoes, basil, rutabaga, squash, kale, lettuce and pumpkins to enjoy with students. Many of these veggies will be harvested in the coming weeks before the first frost settles into the gardens.
So far this season we have harvested over 200 lbs of fresh vegetables from the school gardens at Creekside! Much of this produce was sold at our summer Farm Market at the Dexter Wellness Center to support the program. Beginning in late August, all of the veggies have been used for Dexter students. Some of the harvests have been processed and frozen for upcoming flex classes at Creekside, some was used for making salsa in the after school Garden Club at Creekside, some of it has been sold to Dexter Food and Nutrition for use in the cafeterias.
We are so excited to partner with Dexter Food and Nutrition to provide fresh, local produce to Dexter students. Since school began, Dexter cafeterias have offered many different varieties of Creekside produce for students. Wylie students have been able to sample fresh string beans, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from the Creekside gardens. Creekside students have been able to sample radishes that were harvested by the Creekside After School Garden Club, and homemade pesto and salsa verde was prepared using basil, tomatillos and garlic. In addition to this all schools have received plums and nectarines from Lesser Farms and Orchard. Apples from Lesser and Frosty Apple will be offered soon. We can’t wait!
Meet the Farm to School Team:
Francie Wesorick has worked for the Dexter Farm to School program since June 2017. She loves the Dexter Farm to School program because it gets students outdoors, helps them to appreciate nature and to learn where food comes from. There’s lots of problem solving in gardening and cooking and always something new to learn.
Francie’s favorite vegetable to eat is roasted carrots and her favorite vegetable to grow is eggplant. Her favorite flower is the snapdragon.
Lisa Babe has been with the Farm to School Program since January of 2015. She loves to connect students to local produce and their community through Dexter cafeterias and gardening at Creekside.
She is very passionate about teaching students of all ages where food comes from and that healthy food is also delicious and good for the environment. She strongly believes that the benefits of the Farm to School Program promote positive mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Lisa’s favorite vegetable is roasted broccoli rabe and she loves making homemade ratatouille for her family.
This is Kelly Parachek’s second year working with the program. She loves cooking and trying to grow new things in her garden. Kelly loves this program because she thinks it is important to teach kids how to work together and to grow their own food. She believes it is always exciting when kiddos get to try something new and find out that they actually like it! She is looking forward to another fantastic year in the gardens!
This is Kirsten Korff’s 22nd year of teaching. She has been with the garden program for all but 2 years since its beginning in 2013.
Kirsten thinks the best part of this program is seeing kids get excited about fresh food and learning how to use/cook with it. She believes many kids are not interested in trying new foods. However, as soon as they play a role in the harvesting and making of the food they are much more eager to try. Most of the time they find out they like something new. She also really enjoys cooking. If she was not teaching she would run her own food truck.
“Wow! I helped plant that garden last spring, look how much it has grown!”
“I love tomatoes, we grow them in our garden at home!”
“How do you grow such giant sunflowers?!”
Creekside students were back in action this week and we are so glad to see returning 6th graders and new 5th graders exploring the gardens. As we were harvesting, classes passed by on their way to recess and so many students had great observations and comments!
A Special Thank You!
We had a great summer at the Creekside gardens and are so fortunate to have had an amazing intern from the University of Michigan, Mary-Kate Szuma oversee the care and harvesting at the gardens. Mary-Kate was very passionate about health, nutrition and gardening. She passed this passion on to both students and community members that she encountered during the summer. Thank you Mary-Kate!
We also wrapped up our last Farm Market of the season on Wednesday. We had a great turnout at the Dexter Wellness Center all summer and hope to be back next year. All of the profit from the Farm Market goes directly to support the gardens and Kitchen-Garden classes at Creekside School. Thank you Dexter Wellness Center members!
Upcoming Classroom and Cafeteria Events
Creekside Kitchen-Garden Flex Classes If your Creekside student is interested in signing up for this flex class, please have them talk to their team teachers!
After School Creekside Garden Club Garden club will be held on Mondays right after school in the Kitchen-Garden classroom, Room 211. If your student is interested in joining, please have them ask their team teachers for a permission slip.
Cafeteria Samplings We hope to have enough produce from the gardens in the next couple of weeks to do several samplings in the school cafeterias. Some of the student-grown produce we are hoping to include: green/purple beans, Swiss chard, cherry tomatoes, basil, spinach, lettuce, kale, tomatillos and garlic. Please check out our Facebook page or Dexter Food and Nutrition for more information on dates.
We’ve finally reached the end of summer, and it’s time for a new school year to begin. Hopefully, this summer was a great one filled with lots of smiles, laughs, and good times. I love summer and how relaxing it can be, but I am always itching for all things fall right about this time every year. It’s awesome to live in Michigan and to be able to experience all four seasons (even winter)!
The gardens are looking great, and the produce is not slowing down anytime soon. It’s hard to keep up! We just planted some spinach, lettuce, turnips, rutabaga, and carrots that will be ready for the fall. Our sunflowers finally bloomed, and the eggplant looks wonderful. The students will certainly have a lot to look at and cook with when they get back!
Eggplant is such a fun vegetable to grow and to eat. It has been around for more than 2,000 years and is native to India. Eggplant is commonly referred to as “aubergine” in England. There are many varieties of eggplant, but it can be recognized by the glossy, deep purple or black skin and egg-like shape. It can also be green, pink, or white, and can range in size. We have some fairytale and black beauty varieties planted, as you can see above. While technically a fruit, eggplant is often used as a vegetable in most dishes. Eggplant is not only a pretty vegetable, but it is also full of many nutrients, including manganese, folate, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C. Eggplant also contains many different antioxidants. Nasunin is one antioxidant, in particular, that helps to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Nasunin also functions as an iron “chelator” to help iron become more absorbable by the body, as well as binding to poisonous metals to promote their removal from the body. Chlorogenic acid is another antioxidant found in eggplant that helps to regulate glucose and lipid metabolism and also has anti-tumor and antiviral effects. Manganese found in eggplant aids in the formation of a healthy bone structure, while also assisting in metabolic activity in the body. It’s no wonder eggplant is referred to as the “king of vegetables” in India!
Eggplant is very versatile in the kitchen. It can be baked, sautéed, steamed, boiled, or grilled. Eggplant absorbs the flavors it is cooked with, so it works well with fresh herbs and spices. Here is a simple recipe for eggplant caponata, which makes a perfect appetizer or side dish!
1 pound Italian eggplants cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes (15 oz)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup green and black olives, chopped
1/4 cup capers
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Coat with nonstick spray.
Place eggplant pieces on the baking sheet and drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil on the eggplants. Sprinkle some salt and mix using your hands.
Roast the eggplants in the oven for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a pan over medium heat.
Sauté onion and garlic until translucent.
Add in diced tomatoes and red bell peppers to onions and garlic. Cook for about ten more minutes.
Add in cooked eggplant, chopped olives and capers. Cook for five minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Top with parsley and serve warm with crusty bread, if desired.
I hope you’ve enjoyed diving deeper into the nutrition of many common fruits and vegetables found at the farmer’s market, as well as getting an inside look to our gardens at Creekside school this summer! It has been so fun to share my nutrition knowledge and love of gardening and food with you. This summer has been a really great one! Hopefully, we have inspired you to create your very own backyard garden, if you didn’t already have one. I’ll leave you with this video that details 10 things to know before starting a vegetable garden. Both beginner and experienced gardeners can definitely benefit from these tips!
Can you believe we are halfway through August already? I keep thinking it’s still July! It seems like summer goes by way too fast every year, especially when you are kept busy with projects, camps, vacations, and gardening. While summer may be nearing its end, but our plant sure aren’t!
Each week, we have more and more tomatoes ripening. Our kale and lettuce is still growing strong, and we are continuing to harvest Swiss chard, carrots, eggplant, cucumbers, string beans, banana peppers, and lots of herbs. This week, we harvested our first bell peppers. They’re not quite as big as the ones you find at the store, but they taste just as good, if not better!
Sweet bell peppers are my favorite veggie to snack on. These bell-shaped boxy vegetables are actually a fruit, botanically speaking. They are members of the nightshade family of plants, which also includes tomatoes and eggplant. Bell peppers are sweet, as opposed to hot chili peppers, because they lack capsaicin – the compound that gives other peppers a spicy taste. Bell peppers are also unique because they come in a variety of colors from red, orange, green, and yellow to purple and even brown! Green bell peppers are unripe and have a slightly bitter flavor. They then change to yellow or orange and finally red. Red bell peppers are the ripest and have the sweetest taste.
Each type of bell pepper has a slightly different nutritional profile. However, in general, bell peppers contain significant amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, and fiber, as well as the antioxidant compounds known as carotenoids. These carotenoids help to stabilize free radicals in the body, reducing oxidative damage. This in turn reduces the risk of cancer and other diseases. Similar to carrots, bell peppers contain the specific carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These are essential compounds for healthy eyes and vision. Lutein has even been shown to treat macular degeneration. Red bell peppers contain over 200% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and 75% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C! Both vitamin A and vitamin C help to support the immune system. Vitamin A also works with carotenoids to support eye health, and vitamin C supports skin health by promoting collagen production. Vitamin C additionally enhances the absorption of iron by preventing certain inhibitors from binding to iron. This works best when iron and vitamin C are consumed together in the same meal, which is why chicken and stir fry veggies (with bell peppers) is a delicious and nutritious meal!
Bell peppers can be enjoyed raw or cooked. They make great vessels for all kinds of stuffing, and they are also great in salads, soups, fajitas, and pastas. Here is a recipe for a summer panzanella salad perfect for the last couple of summer barbecues and parties:
Summer Panzanella Salad
3 cups artisan-style bread, cut into cubes (sub GF bread)
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 pint multi-colored cherry tomatoes
3 bell peppers (one each – yellow, red, green)
1/2 red onion
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon thinly sliced basil leaves
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Slice the bread into cubes. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Spread in a single layer and bake until golden brown, about 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Dice the bell peppers. Thinly slice the red onion. Mince the garlic. Thinly slice the basil (chiffonade).
In a medium bowl, combine the sherry vinegar, and garlic. Gradually whisk in 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a creamy emulsion forms. Season with salt and black pepper.
In a large bowl, combine the chopped vegetables, dressing, basil, and toasted bread. (If making in advance, add the toasted bread last to avoid becoming soggy.) Allow to stand about 15 minutes for the flavors to meld, then serve immediately. (Leftovers are delicious, but the bread becomes soggy after a few hours.)
Even though summer is coming to an end, you can still plant more vegetables in your garden! Watch this video to learn about 20 crops you can still grow in August. Beets, beans, cucumber, carrots, spinach, lettuce, turnips, and broccoli are just some of vegetables perfect for a fall garden!