Kelly Liken: Program for Children

[Many chefs are passionate about developing relationships with local farmers and the community. Super Chef asked Chef Kelly Liken of Restaurant Kelly Liken how she translates her interest in good food into a program for children in her community. Kelly will be competing on the Food Network’s Iron Chef on May 9, 2010 – The Editor]

I like to believe that all of us as chefs do what we do everyday because we have a passion for it. I think it’s what drives us to work the long hours and stay committed to our work.

Over the years that passion has grown and developed for me in ways I wouldn’t have guessed as a young chef just starting out. I have always had an interest in sourcing locally and organically, and developing a relationship with those growers and artisans. Over that past year I have felt the need to take that one step farther, and involve my community in the tremendous education I have received through working with the people who grow our food. When we know where our food comes from, it opens all kinds of doors to us. It bring authenticity to our meals, it creates awareness about waste and the environment, and supporting our local artisans keeps our communities alive and growing. This is why I have teamed up with the Vail Valley Foundation and Brush Creek Elementary School in Eagle, CO to help develop Sowing Seeds a curriculum and enrichment-based schoolyard garden program for children aged K-5. The program will emphasize the importance of nutrition, agriculture, and sustainability, as well as providing students with hands-on knowledge of their environment.

The edible schoolyard will consist of a greenhouse garden, located on the grounds of Brush Creek Elementary, which is literally in my backyard. The greenhouse will encompass a variety of growing methods for teaching and learning, including a hydroponic system allowing the students to grow and harvest food year-round. The first crop will consist of a varied lot of vegetables such as broccoli, beets, and parsnips, as well as fruit such as strawberries and herbs including Italian basil, peppermint and pineapple sage. Two beds will be dedicated to hydroponic systems, including lettuce varieties, while Jardenia and early girl tomatoes will also be grown. While the benefits of the hydroponic gardens mean a quicker yield, the traditional crops are expected to be harvested in mid-to late May.

I believe that the best way to bring community together is through food, and that starts with children at a young age. Education about the importance of eating and sourcing local ingredients makes a tremendous difference in our daily lives. I hope to share all that I have learned in and out of the kitchen with these students. I feel lucky to be able to work with such a progressive public school, and an administration that thinks outside of the box in terms of education. The parents at Brush Creek Elementary have formed a “green initiative” and are so incredibly supportive of our new programs, it makes me proud to be part of their community. I will be meeting with the children (and parents) on a regular basis throughout the year and will lead them through various exercises, including learning how to care for a garden, enjoying the products in various recipes including how to extend them for use throughout the winter season such as the highlighting the benefits of pickling. A big part of the educational process will include recommendations on resourceful and fun ways to reuse, reduce and recycle, whenever possible including teaching the class the importance and benefits of composting (special bins will be assigned to each grade level for this purpose). They will also learn to organize, label crops, water, and fertilize.

One of the best parts about bringing local food to our schools for me is the ability of my restaurant to “complete the circle”. Every Sunday all summer long, I throw out my regular menu and cook a multi course meal directly from our farmer’s market. This summer I will have crops that the school kids from my local elementary school have grown included in that experience. I hope some of the kids will want to come and cook with me on Sundays. There’s nothing like watching someone enjoy eating the food that you’ve not only cooked, but grown, harvested, cleaned, etc. The opportunity to experience the complete life cycle of the food we eat from seed to table is a life changing experience regardless of your age.

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