Garden to Café in the Sunshine State

On the school grounds of Charles R. Drew K–8 Center in South Florida, you’ll find all the expected scenes: students skipping with excitement between classes, student-painted murals along the walls, and students eagerly participating in classrooms and clubs. Another image powerfully forms this school’s ethos: students working in and harvesting from the garden, a green haven in the courtyard students frequently pass through. 

WITS Chef Leonor has worked alongside these students for 8 years leading hands-on garden education experiences as well as culinary and nutrition education lessons in the classroom, with WITS Labs like Roasted Potatoes and Potato Salad earning high praise from students. 

This year, students are connecting their science lessons with WITS Chef Leonor’s instruction to learn more about the plants they are tasting. Mrs. Richelene Joseph, Drew’s Science Coach, explains, “The students understand how valuable it is to have a garden at the school site. Students can visualize and make connections with the life science topics covered in class by observing the garden outdoors; we recently studied how we could eat all the parts of a plant and went to the garden to look at the different parts, like the seeds.” 

Triplet students showing off rosemary harvested from the school garden

Some of the students’ favorite seeds they planted in prior seasons are now becoming the produce they can observe and pick, with herbs growing in abundance and even some papayas in the mix. Most recently, WITS Chef Leonor led the students in a tomato tasting as they ripened on their vines in the garden, with one fourth-grader expressing, “The taste of tomatoes is dancing in my mouth!” Green onions and rosemary were ready to pick this spring as well, and students got their hands in the dirt to harvest the produce just in time for their WITS Roasted Potato and Potato Salad Labs. 

The WITS Potato Labs quickly became a favorite among students, with the combination of potatoes and fresh ingredients like rosemary and green onions from the garden cementing students’ interest in plants and how food grows. In the WITS Lab, students are encouraged to get hands-on with the ingredients just as they are in the garden, learning to strip the rosemary leaves off the stem to make the delicious seasoning for the potatoes. The classroom is a buzz of newfound knowledge. As the recipe is being prepared, WITS Chef Leonor talks to students about the nutritional and medicinal power of herbs. One student shared, “I did not know herbs are so magic. They smell, taste, and look delicious!” 

Once the potatoes have finished roasting in the mini oven, WITS Chef Leonor takes them out and the classrooms’ attention is drawn to the tray of perfectly-seasoned potatoes. The students’ voices are quiet while samples are passed out and the first bites are taken, but only for a moment — the excited voices return instantly to say, “This is the best recipe in the world!” And the best part of all is the student involvement every step of the way, from garden to café.

WITS Roasted Potato Lab with Rosemary