Robert F Hall Community Secondary School, Caledon East, ON
2017-2018 (Year 2)
With our second year quickly coming to a close, Robert F Hall CSS in Caledon East has had a year of many opportunities and challenges to add to the mix. We continued having our grade 11 and 12 hospitality classes prepare a large variety of items to be served to the almost 1000 students now enrolled in our fast-growing school.
Using product which is in season and found growing locally, as best as possible, has been a blessing. Being immersed in a diverse farming region north of the major city of Toronto, has offered us many advantages. The start of the year found us being asked by our local CSA, the Albion Hills Community Garden, a not for profit organization to help with and be part of their First Annual Garlic Festival.
Our students had the opportunity to pick, prepare and serve fresh vegetables that have been grown on site, which were offer to the patrons both raw and cooked. I found it exciting to hear one student remark, “… how much better everything tasted than if it was bought from a grocery store. It’s the best carrot that I have ever tasted!”
With such a great start to the year we continued with our salad bar regularly to the enjoyment of a slow but steady increase of students looking for a fresh option. Knowing our limits when the weather turns cold, and wanting to use locally sourced produce, we have been experimenting with a hydroponics system to grow much of what we need. Nothing more local than doing it yourself!
The student are building this system themselves and a key feature is that anyone no matter of what technical ability or financial position would be able to make grow and sustain a garden of their own. We are using items found at hand and even using a shoe string if needed allowing for a minimal budget for start-up that anyone can get going in a matter of hours. This will be our major focus next year, as to bring our working model to a production stage. This is where it will begin to produce fresh lettuce and other vegetables during the winter months. This will be used in our salad bar and other catering events allowing for some ability to maintain sustainability throughout the whole year.
We have been working in our classrooms not only to have student prepare, serve and maintain a well-balanced salad bar, but we have also begun techniques in sprouting and seed planting for conventional gardens. Sprouts are grown and harvested for use on the salad bar and the seeds planted are for the students to regularly maintain and keep healthy so to appreciate the care and attention that is needed to grow food.
We are so looking forward to the coming year to bring into action the opportunity that the Farm to School grant has given us. Without the support both financially and with the educational partners we have, it would have been a difficult task to do on our own.
2016-2017 (Year 1)
The whole Farm to Cafeteria concept is something that I, as a Chef and now hospitality teacher, was looking for when I arrived at Robert F Hall High School. This school, located in the rural community of Caledon East, was built some 20 years ago when the community was comprised of a few shops at four corners and a couple of churches. In this small haven, growth does not appear to have followed the usual process. That is, rather than building a school to meet the needs of the community, it is as if the school was built and the community followed.
I must say, starting this farm to school salad bar project has been an experience of both surprise and wonder at the resources available to make it a success. The more I dove into avenues of acquiring local foods the more surprised I became at how close we were to so many things grown or raised. I am now getting into the habit of asking my students where to source local foods. One student, who lives on a dairy farm, brought in fresh milk (which very few see anymore), and then the class was shown how milk is pasteurized, why it’s done, how to separate cream from milk and how make butter. It has been endless fun. Several other students brought in varieties of eggs from different breeds of chickens and other birds like ducks and geese to compare the differences in shell colour and taste. Again, endless fun! Understanding that local foods were so near and plentiful, and that students were such a wealth of knowledge about their local food systems, was the last thing I would have expected to gain from setting up a salad bar.
So what’s on the plate for next year? Our partnerships have led us to a not-for-profit CSA – located literally just around the country corner from us. This will give the students the opportunity to get their hands dirty and truly experience what it will take to plant, wait, tend to and harvest their crop. We are then planning on using this bounty within the hospitality classes as a learning tool on how to preserve and process our produce for the coming winter months. Not only will the CSA folks help to bring into focus the skills of tending plants, but we will in turn offer our cooking services to them in the fall to prepare a 5 course meal on the farm itself using only locally grown products.
The excitement about Farm to Cafeteria is building, albeit slowly. There are those who are thrilled at the opportunity and others not so much. However, as in all things, not everyone has the same passions or experiences. I believe this is a learning and growing process. We have immediate converts, and those who are trying it out here and there, as well those who prefer the less than colourful stuff. But that’s OK, they too will find their red, purple and dark green leafy side, eventually. The good news is that we are here for the long haul, and we are patient!
Robert F. Hall
Caledon East, Ontario