That's our friend Helen showing baby Hazel some of her garden moves. Apparently, years of team shuffleboard back in West Virginia left Helen with a solid right-hand raking arm...
All kidding aside, Helen and I spent our first "action" morning at the Washington Youth Garden, located in the National Arboretum here in the District of Columbia, tending the soil and planting seeds for our "chef's garden."
I recently recieved an invitation from the good folk at the Youth Garden to join a rather select group of chefs who also grow vegetables. Wait--it gets even better. At some point we will actually be turning our vegetables into meals we can share with some of the families who also are involved with the Youth Garden.
The Youth Garden has a great program reaching out to local elementary school children with its gardening and cooking programs. It also opens its doors each spring to a certain number of families with children (22 this year) who are given their own garden plot to tend.
Then every so often a chef visits the Youth Garden to help prepare a terrific feast with all the vegetables that have been growing there.
This year, I will be one of those chefs, and Helen agreed to help. (Not only that, the Youth Garden found out Helen is an expert vermicomposter and immediately signed her up to talk to the kids about worms. In exchange, Helen gets a garden plot of her own. Today she planted some of her peppers.)
An object of this exercise is to envision a menu and plant vegetables accordingly. For some reason, I chose a Southern theme. My tastes just run in that direction. Plus, I already had a packet of peanut seeds at home. So we started talking about peanut soup, smothered okra, sweet potatoes, succotash...
Before you know it, we were raising a teepee (made of bamboo poles) for the lima beans. We also filled three newly constructed planters with the most excellent soil that the Youth Garden has only been amending for the last 35 years. We thought the planters would be just the thing for root vegetables, so we planted beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, radishes.
I also planted some dill. I think we must pickle some cucumbers at some point.
There is also watermelon and possibly sweet corn in our future.
Oy! Smothered okra, cornbread and watermelon. I think Edna Lewis must be looking down on us and smiling...
P.S., for a great take on chefs working with kids, read Kevin Weeks' post at Seriously Good.
And for more information about programs at the Youth Garden, contact Courtney Rose, Educational Coordinator and Kaifa Anderson-Hall, Program Director at 202-245-2709.