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Pasadena Star News
Sierra Madre students plant, harvest and enjoy their veggies in Arboretum program
By Claudia Palma, The Pasadena Star-News
“I like the carrots and the soy thing,” said 8-year-old Sasha Madilian of the vegetable stir-fry she tasted for the first time during the harvest.
With a captive young audience, Steven Mary, executive chef of Catal Restaurant and Uva Bar in Downtown Disney, cooked the stir fry of vegetables, herbs, sesame seeds, coconut oil and coconut aminos sauce, the latter which is used as an alternative for soy sauce.
But Mary alone did not prepare this special meal.
“I like cutting lemons,” said 7-year-old Auge Martin.
As part of the Roots & Shoots program, the Gooden students visited the Arboretum every other week to learn about gardening and incorporate it into their earth science curriculum.
Throughout the school year, the students learn to plant, grow and harvest vegetables and herbs from program director Leigh Talmo in a dedicated organic garden on the Arboretum grounds.
“They see the whole plant life cycle,” said second-grade teacher Emily Keezer. “We talk about the seed, what’s needed to make it grow, then they harvest twice a year. This gives them a hands-on experience.”
On Thursday, the Gooden students harvested carrots, chard, turnip, cabbage, onion, and different herbs from the garden to prepare them for the stir-fry.
Mary then taught the students, one at a time, about knife and cooking safety and then guided them as they learned to chop the harvested vegetables for the stir-fry.
The first harvest party of the school year was in September and the students made a salad and everyone has to try it, said Keezer.
“Some like it, some don’t,” she said. “I think they’re more willing. That’s what is more rewarding because they planted them all themselves.”
Even when the weather is not ideal for outdoor gardening, the students take shelter in a nearby small classroom where Talmo can teach them about composting, earthworms, ladybugs, rocks and minerals, and more.
“(The program) is one of their favorite things,” said Keezer. “They remember it all up until eighth grade.”
Learning in a real garden also helps Gooden students when they move on to fourth grade where they will plant and harvest in the school’s garden. The harvest is donated to local food banks.
Talmo, a Sierra Madre resident, offered the program to three more classes from two other elementary schools and one high school in the Los Angeles County area this year.
“They plant, they maintain and then enjoy the food that they grew,” said Talmo.”They see it from start to finish and end up with the harvest party.”
Talmo’s 27-year-old son Jensen also helps with the program, which he was also a part of when he was a Gooden student.
Talmo invites longtime friend Mary, who lives in nearby Monrovia, to help with the end of year harvest parties.
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