Not your average school lunch in Chilmark
Photo by Ralph Stewart
On a Friday last month, the Chilmark School had its second community lunch at the Chilmark Community Center.
Banquet tables were set with tablecloths, silverware, plates, linen napkins, Mason jars for water, and wintry centerpieces. Students and teachers were directed to tables marked with little place cards designating them the potato, onion, beet, and chard table. Students from different grades sat together with a parent or teacher who served food from a family-style platter. They were encouraged to try everything or if necessary, to decline politely with a "no, thank you."
In the kitchen, chefs Dan Sauer of 7a Foods and Robert Lionette were supported by a full staff of student sous chefs who chopped carrots, rolled breadsticks, and portioned yogurt dip.
"The community lunches at the Chilmark School are a great opportunity to experiment with an unconventional approach to school meals — a sit-down community dining experience," said Noli Taylor, program coordinator for Island Grown Schools (IGS). "We use all local ingredients and give students a longer period of time to eat and enjoy their meal."
A central part of IGS's mission is to "raise a new generation of Vineyarders who are connected to local farms and farmers and are empowered to make healthy eating choices."
The meal was prefaced by a blessing from the kindergarteners: "Let's savor our days as we savor our meals."
On the menu were beet chips and carrot sticks from Morning Glory Farm with yogurt dip from Mermaid Farm and Dairy, breadsticks made with flour that Chilmark School students ground themselves. The wheat that wasn't ground was made into a wheat berry salad with roasted winter vegetables and crispy kale from Mermaid Farm and Dairy. Fresh ham came from Luce Pig Farm, and for dessert there was apple bread pudding, apples courtesy of Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, Vermont.
Kids ate while laughing and discussing new likes and dislikes. Some preferred the savory yogurt dip with toasted cumin and lime juice, while others opted for the sweet yogurt dip with honey, cinnamon, and dried cranberries. Some kids were surprised by their taste for kale, and others asked for seconds of the beet chips.
Community lunches are designed in part to connect some of the work kids are doing in school to their lunch period, with the guidance of their IGS coordinators.
"Our second lunch added a new element that we're excited to continue in the future — working with students not only to cook the meal, but also to help create and harvest what we eat," Ms.Taylor said. "This time, all of the school's students helped grind the flour we used in the breadsticks, and a number of the school families came out to Morning Glory to glean the root vegetables that we ate as appetizers. This helped students feel even more excited about the meal, and eager to try foods they might not usually be up for eating."
Amanda Fenner, a parent volunteer, likes that the kids get to experience a proper meal with real linen and glasses. "It's nice to see them exercise table manners, and be willing to try new things," she said. "There is a real sense of community with the parents and teachers working together to make it happen."
With the help of IGS and the Chilmark School PTO, community lunches will be held monthly until April.