Garden State on Your Plate

“We grow everything ourselves,” said proud fifth grader Matty Baglio at the Garden State on Your Plate event on Tuesday, Oct. 13. The Community Park Middle School cafeteria filled with students eager to taste some new things, and important state officials there to encourage healthy eating among Princeton’s finest: it’s youth.

State Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher came to support the program, as well as two other representatives from the state Department of Agriculture – Rose Tricario, director of food and nutrition, and Chris Cirkus of the NJDA Farm to School Program. Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes also came with a happy face and tastebuds ready.

The Garden State on Your Plate event was sponsored by the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative, which has allowed local schools to have gardens where students learn how to dig, plant seeds and grow their own delicious fruits and vegetables.

“The apples are so good,” exclaimed fourth grader Brooks Chill-Sandias.

This event, the first of four tastings scheduled for the 2015-16 school year, aims to introduce K-5 students to diverse fruits and vegetables grown by their local farms. Through support of Princeton University, all four Princeton public elementary schools will be visited by four local chefs. Each chef offers identical tastings of their local farm item at each school. In support of the Garden State on Your Plate tastings, children also learn about each farm item through videos, posters and lessons in both their classrooms and gardens.

“It’s an innovative way to try vegetables they may not be prone to try at home,” said Joel Rosa, CP food service director. “It makes it easier for the kids to pick out healthier choices. In line for lunch, most students don’t pick the healthier option. After tastings like this, I see them begin to pick more healthy things. I am proud to be a part of this program.”

Tuesday’s vegetable of choice was a broccoli plant, presented by Farmer Jess Niederer from Chickadee Farms and Chef Dan Slobodien from Princeton University. Rather than just making something from the crown, which most students are used to, the chef prepared a broccoli slaw made from all parts of the plant. Children were advised to first taste the leaf, then try the leaf with a natural flavor – a little lemon – and then finally the slaw.

“I’ve been a professional chef for 35 years, but I actually started cooking when I was your age, just playing in the kitchen with my mom,” Slobodien said to a group of oohing and awing second graders. “Cooking comes from the heart. I made this from my heart, and Farmer Jess also grew it with love. At least have a no-thank you portion and give it a try.”

All the kids were willing participants. There were a few sour faces in the crowd, but most everyone seemed to enjoy tasting the new parts of the plant.

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida