(Read about the Gourmets trip to the competition here.)
The Guilford Gourmets, the sixth-grade team from Guilford Central School, took part in the Junior Iron Chef Vermont competition in Essex Junction, Vermont, on March 26. The students competed as part of their Farm-to-School program, led by Jen Kramer (ED’01) and Rachel Davis (ES’07), both middle-school teachers at Guilford, and Emily Cohn (ED’11), an intern in Kramer’s classroom.
The Gourmets had ninety minutes to make their special Ninja Burrito for contest judges, using as many local foods as possible. “The burrito recipe is top secret, of course, but it includes a root veggie pancake, local eggs and a turnip/radish salsa,” said Cohn, who helped the students come up with recipes. “They are called ‘Ninja Burritos’ because we sneak the vegetables in—and students think ninjas are awesome.”
The Guilford team vied against other middle-school and high-school teams from across the state for top honors in the categories of Best in Show, Most Creative, and Most Use of Local Ingredients. Students were encouraged to use seasonal local ingredients like apples, beets, rutabagas, and eggs in a recipe easily replicated by school cooks.
The Guilford Gourmets first had to compete in a school-wide contest earlier this winter in which teams prepared cheesy enchiladas, a creamy winter soup with garlic crouton dunkers and breakfast burritos. The sixth grade wowed the faculty judges with their presentation and the taste. “The kids realized that you can use turnips and parsnips and radishes, things you might not have thought you’d like,” Kramer said.
Guilford students are not new to the cutting board and cook stove. They have been focusing on local food since Kramer and Davis took on the Farm-to-School program four years ago.
Farm to School is a national initiative, now in 47 states, that strives to connect school children with their local agricultural roots. In Kramer and Davis’ first Farm-to-School project year, they took the sixth-grade class on field trips to farms and joined Windham County’s Locavore Challenge. When the students were asked to come up with a project, they chose maple sugaring. They prepared a presentation for the school board’s approval, researched maple biology, secured equipment, and then tapped a dozen trees on campus.
“This year we wanted to focus more on bringing local foods into the school and making students aware of what seasonal foods are available,” Kramer said. Again, it’s been hands-on. Students visited the farms that supply some food for their school lunches, like Green Mountain Orchard in Dummerston. They harvested their own food, then prepared different dishes for taste-testing and eating, including apple crisp, sweet potato fries, butternut squash soup, and even kale. Crispy Kale, Kramer said, turned out to be a big favorite, with 85 percent of the school giving it a thumbs up.
Students brought the community into the project by preparing some food at the Guilford Grange and making the squash soup for the community Thanksgiving luncheon. Because the students were so enthused by their cooking, Kramer, Davis, and Cohn decided to take part in the Junior Iron Chef.
The sixth-grade class isn’t the only Guilford class to take practical learning into the community. Each Wednesday, every class in the K-8 school is involved in a place-based education project, such as publishing a community newspaper. “This was influenced by all of our backgrounds at Antioch,” Kramer said.