Photo: Students from Pellston Public School learn cooking skills from Greg Carpenter of Crooked Tree Breadworks.
Groundwork started something good—well, great, actually—one year ago when we opened an office in Petoskey and staffed it with Jen Schaap and Food Corps Fellow Lindsay Hall. They’ve been especially busy working to get fresh, locally grown food into nearby schools, like those at Boyne Falls, Pellston and Petoskey, and building awareness of healthy food among students, families and school staff.
Below is a stellar example of their work, a day in which students gathered at Bliss Gardens Farm and Community Kitchen to learn about food from field to finished product. Greg Carpenter, owner and baker at Crooked Tree Breadworks, collaborated with students to create something delicious. The day’s mission is all about change and incubating a pattern of commerce that results in healthier children, more financially stable farm families and helping ensure farmland stays as the beautiful farmland we love.
The Pellston Public School bus arrives at Bliss Gardens Farm and Community Kitchen,17 miles away from school, on a gorgeous, slightly breezy day in late May. As students pile off the bus, the day’s food team greets them: Lindsay Hall, the FoodCorps service member at Groundwork; Bliss Gardens farmer Mary Rapin and her various farm helpers, which include two neighbors and two interns; and Greg Carpenter, owner and operator of Crooked Tree Breadworks.
The team maps out the next couple of hours for the Pellston students. They can choose between three stations that involve hands-on activities: in the field planting carrots and potatoes, in the greenhouse shelling dry beans, or in the kitchen helping create a protein bar that includes black beans from Bliss Gardens Farm.
In the field, students use garden tools, including a vintage wheel hoe, to cut rows into the soil for potatoes and carrots. As they work, students share stories about the gardens they have at home, and their favorite ways to prepare different varieties of potatoes for homemade french fries or mashed potatoes. One student recalls having some of Bliss Gardens Farm potatoes in a school lunch, “I like the blue ones!” The boys and girls etch the trenches, and in them lay pieces of seed potato. They sprinkle carrot seeds—smaller than grains of sand—along the row. By hand, they cover everything with soil.
In the greenhouse, the farmer/instructors show how to use traditional threshing farm practices for winnowing and sorting to clean bean seeds. Students gather dried plants by the handful, place them in used corn bags, throw the bags on the floor, and stomp on them to separate the plant matter from the various kinds of beans—Midnight Turtle Black, Black Coco Dry Beans, Tiger, and Hyrite, a less starchy bean variety. The students partner up and work together to pour the bags into bins, letting the breeze separate the chaff from the seed, then into another bin, then another, until the beans are mostly separated. The final step is blowing debris from the beans with a hair dryer to create the product that will be used in a tasty treat.
On this field day, the biggest group of kids heads to the kitchen, intrigued by the yet-to-be-named protein bar. Greg Carpenter created the recipe with feedback from the students. It was inspired by the black beans grown at Bliss Gardens Farm, and the fact that many of the students don’t eat breakfast, and/or the school food service director was looking for healthier snack options.
A student who is interested in culinary school carefully arranges the bars on platters to present them to the whole group. The three groups convened after completing the different station tasks and sampled the bar. They give feedback on the texture, flavor, and how much the bar filled them up.
The students also brainstormed names for the bar, like Bliss Bar, Hornet Bar (their mascot is a hornet), and Fantastic Fuel. Luckily, there were enough leftovers to hand-deliver some to the school’s Food Service Director, Sherry Sedore. She wants to organize a group of students to help her make the bars as a breakfast option in the tray line. Beyond that, she wants to start a school garden (and really wishes she could have attended the field trip that day!).
“I’m excited to do more events like this that feature healthful, local options for students,” says Carpenter, of Crooked Tree Breadworks. “I see a bread-baking class in our future based on all the questions we got about artisan bread making today!” Students, many of whom will return in the fall to harvest the carrots and potatoes, leave beaming and proud of the work they accomplished. They offer sincere thank-yous to the station leaders, who offer support and assistance to any students who are interested in pursuing a culinary or farming career.
What to name the protein bar?
We are loving the names the students brainstormed for the protein bar!
—By Jen Schaap, Local Food Policy Specialist