Aspen school harvest proves to be no small potatoes

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Rustin Gudim/The Aspen TimesThe idea behind the Aspen Elementary School garden is to keep students engaged while teaching them about healthy eating.

ASPEN – This week, a corner of Aspen Elementary School’s kindergarten playground will be transformed.

The slides and monkey bars will still be there. Kids will still play tag on the grassy field. But the vegetable garden – dubbed the “Magical Garden” – will be dug up and put to bed for the winter season.

“It’s amazing to see how this has gone full circle,” said Tenille Folk, chef and food services manager for the Aspen Elementary and Aspen Middle schools. “The kids saw these foods being planted, they saw it grow, and they will see the season end.”

The end of the growing season is not the end of the learning, however.

“My goal is to make delicious, healthy food that the kids are going to love, and having some of this happen before their eyes is incredible,” Folk said.

The idea behind the Aspen Elementary garden, which includes six beds filled with everything from lettuce and snow peas to potatoes and herbs, is to keep students engaged while teaching them about healthy eating.

“We have different lettuces and herbs, and we put them in everything we serve,” Folk said.

If she tells the kids something is “organic” they balk at trying it, but if she says it’s healthy they will give it a try. “It’s so amazing to watch the kids learn about new foods and learn about where they come from – the whole cycle,” she said.

As such, the garden is a project of Slow Foods Roaring Fork – and a passion of Folk and a group of Aspen School District parents. It also goes far beyond the garden beds.

Folk’s programs at the elementary and middle schools include composting, after-school cooking classes, and the inaugural outing of a farmers’ market at Wednesday’s back-to-school night at Aspen Elementary.

“We are trying to create more awareness of what we are doing, and it coincides with harvesting the garden,” she said, adding that the market will also include produce from other local farmers and growers. “We have learned we can’t meet all our needs in our garden, so we’ve partnered with other people. But it still works.”

For example, the schools might need 100 ears of corn for a given dish, but can only grow six ears. Though they buy the other kernels, they can still show the kids where the corn comes from though the school’s garden.

“To see the look on their faces when they see where their food comes from is amazing,” Folk said. “It is a real hands-on learning lesson.”