Aspen school kids harvest Magical Garden |

Aspen school kids harvest Magical Garden

ASPEN – The only thing more natural than dozens of elementary school kids digging in the dirt Monday was likely what they were uncovering – homegrown potatoes, peas, lettuce, radish, kale, strawberries and more.

“It’s a hands-on experience; they get down and dirty,” said Katie Yturri, a mother of two AES students who led the charge to harvest Aspen Elementary School’s Magical Garden. “They learn by doing; they see where their food comes from. … It’s like a real-world science experiment. That is the whole idea behind the garden.”

Yturri has spent the last year working with Tenille Folk, chef and food service manager for the elementary and middle schools, on improving the way the Aspen School District feeds its students. Among the programs currently in place is the Magical Garden, where students, parents and community volunteers plant, tend and harvest an array of fresh fruits and vegetables that the school lunch program then uses.

“Clearly, we are not going to feed the kids entirely from this small garden,” Yturri explained . “But we are able to incorporate some of the foods we harvest. We are also able to use the garden in other ways – educationally, financially.”

In fact, the bounty from Monday’s harvest will benefit the school lunch program’s bottom line. For the second year, there will be a Garden Harvest Mini Farmers’ Market at Aspen Elementary’s Back to School Night on Wednesday from 5-7 p.m.; items to be sold include those dug up from the Magical Garden, as well as donations from local farmers who come to the Aspen Saturday Market.

“The idea behind the farmers market is to promote the garden, and to raise money for the school lunch program,” Yturri said, adding that Slow Food Roaring Fork currently foots most of the bill for the garden by donating seed, compost and – more important – expertise. “But, on a larger scale, our hope is to educate more people about school lunch reform and what we are doing locally to feed our kids healthy, nutritious meals.”

The garden is just one component of Folk’s Food 4 U initiative and the district’s ongoing effort to reform school lunches. Among the offerings now in place are kids cooking classes, adult knife skills classes, Community Supported Agriculture bags, a Thanksgiving turkey sale and holiday lunch at school, all designed to complement the daily lunch service.

“Our mission is to ensure that all students in Elementary and Middle Schools have access to delicious, healthy, seasonal meals in order to grow their bodies, minds and future,” Folk noted on the district website. “All meals are made from locally grown, sustainable ingredients to the greatest extent possible.

“We also want all students to understand the relationships between and among food, health, nutrition, cultures, environment, and business; the relationship children have with food will evolve into a circle benefiting not just themselves, but society as a whole.”

The Aspen School District’s effort to feed kids the most healthful foods it can took a turn up the Fryingpan River Valley this year, as chef and food service manager Tenille Folk invested in a locally raised, grass-fed cow.

Folk, a five-star chef who works with Cook for America on school lunch reform, has for years been committed to serving homemade school lunches with only fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses sliced in house, and fresh breads.

This year, she’s taking the notion a step further by purchasing a cow from the Cap K Ranch, up the Fryingpan. According to Folk, the meat will be provided to the schools in the form of ground beef; it will hopefully feed students in both Aspen Elementary and Aspen Middle schools for the entire school year.

“Wouldn’t it be nice for parents to know that days beef is served in the cafeteria it is a local-grass fed cow,” said Folk, who among other initiatives has instituted Meatless Mondays and a school lunch menu that includes milk or an organic apple juice, a hot entree, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and occasionally a dessert, as well as popular a la carte selections at the middle school like fresh smoothies, homemade soup, salad bar and sub sandwich bar.

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