Robin Forte, Island Grown Schools’ Harvest of the Month guest chef for the Edgartown School, moved through the lunch room with a tray of asparagus roll-ups for students to try. As she moved from table to table she saw a pattern emerging, one that has become familiar through the course of this first year of our Harvest of the Month program. The children at first would politely say “No, thank you” to the taste test. Then one student would venture, “I’ll try it,” and then each person in turn around the table would say the same thing. And suddenly everyone is eating asparagus roll-ups and loving them.
Each month Robin makes three or four special taste tests of the featured crop of the month for Edgartown students, and this month seemed like it would be a challenge. Generally the children we work with thought they didn’t like asparagus much, but through the course of the month things have changed. At another taste test, of asparagus soup, one student saw the asparagus spears on the side of the tray that Robin laid out for decoration. “Oh, is the soup made from these?” she asked, after declining the taste on the first pass. “We grow these in our garden! Okay, I’ll try it.” This is another common theme we’ve found: when students have had a hand in growing or tending to the crops of the month, they are willing to give them a shot.
A different challenge emerged this month in the school cafeterias. Asparagus can be expensive. Dedicated cafeteria directors wanted to source asparagus at least twice through the month, but oftentimes it wasn’t easy to fit the crop into the budget. Some of our school gardens have their own asparagus beds, and this supplemented the meals and reduced costs.
For home cooks who want to make asparagus part of their family’s spring diet, finding a way to grow it at home or in a community garden plot is a great and affordable way to have access to this nutrient-rich, antioxidant-packed vegetable. Asparagus is a perennial vegetable and comes back year after year in a well-tended patch. My neighbor has had the same asparagus patch for almost 40 years, and it is still a prolific producer, thanks to annual soil amendments and a thick layer of mulch she applies after the harvest is over. There is nothing my four-year-old son likes eating fresh from the garden more than asparagus spears he harvested himself.
Thanks to Chris Fischer for the tasty featured recipe this month, broiled asparagus, which you can read on our website, islandgrown.org/schools. Try making it for your kids, and you might hear them say things like this, overheard at the Oak Bluffs School during their roasted asparagus taste test this month:
“It tastes like sugar!”
“This is too good. It is better than grilled cheese!”
“I used to hate asparagus, but now I love it.”
Noli Taylor is executive director of Island Grown Schools, a program of the Island Grown Initiative. This column appears monthly in the Gazette.