Friday, November 12, 2010

The importance of edible gardens

by Andrew Hewson, CCC, SAIT Polytechnic

Editor's note: This article is a continuation of "Culinary ago literacy" (page 7) from Chef Educator Today's Winter 2010 issue.

The entrance to the Jackson Henuset Memorial Culinary Garden at SAIT Polytechnic

In cooking, as in life, there is a first time for everything. Great cooks and chefs draw upon their "first-time" food memories to inspire them to create. Walking through a farmers' market and seeing all the fresh seasonal items, smelling the earth on new potatoes, the fruity perfume of ripe peaches or that bright, distinctive aroma of fresh picked dill: These are the sights and smells that get the creative juices flowing in a chef's mind.

But where did this inspiration start, and where did these food memories come from? Are certain people born with a food gene that triggers when they walk through a farmers' market and inspiration hits them?

Part of our role as chefs and educators is to create an environment for those first-time food memories so our students have a baseline to build from. Certainly the priority is to provide students with a solid foundation in the skills of the trade. They need to know the language of the kitchen, how to control a knife, poach a piece of fish or braise a tough cut of meat into a succulent dish. In order to create these food memories, chef educators need to start with the building blocks, the raw materials of our trade: food.

With a growing urban population accustomed to fast-food, our students have become disconnected from their food sources. In postsecondary institutions, we need to take a lead role in not only teaching the fundamental skills of the culinary trade but in teaching what "real" food is and where it comes from.

The beginnings of educational edible gardening
In 1995, through the Chez Panisse Foundation, chef Alice Waters started The Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, Calif. This school-garden project has gone on to inspire hundreds if not thousands of similar projects across North America. It has also lead to a partnership with The Center for Ecoliteracy where they have developed curriculum resources for secondary schools to adopt when teaching children about food and the environment.

One of the goals of the Edible Schoolyard is connecting children with gardens, thus educating them as to where healthy, nutritious food comes from. By involving the students in preparing, serving and eating the food they are "awakening their senses and encouraging awareness and appreciation," according to Edible Schoolyard's mission statement.

The same benefits must also apply in a postsecondary institution that teaches aspiring cooks. Part of a cook's training is tasting what they cook in order to "awaken their senses," but in order to be aware and truly appreciate food, students must be connected to the agrarian process. That is where incorporating edible garden curriculum through culinary agro literacy comes in. (To read chef Hewson's article on culinary agro literacy, visit

The author and chef-instructor Simon Dunn breaking ground on the new garden at SAIT Polytechnic

Tips and resources

In our first season of growing at the Jackson Henuset Memorial Culinary Garden at SAIT Polytechnic, we saw a tremendous positive response from the students. Those who never had a garden created their own first-time food memories while others recalled fond memories of being in a garden as a child. Students are now learning to identify food as it is growing rather than simply "picking" from a grocery store shelf.

Andrew Hewson, CCC, is a chef-instructor at the School of Hospitality and Tourism at SAIT Polytechnic, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Want to learn even more about edible gardening? Attend the FENI Summit Master Class!

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