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Taking Time to Smell the Rosemary

Slow Food Denver teaches Denver youth about the roots of good eating

Somewhere between TV dinners and New Coke, America lost touch with its pastoral roots. Collectively, we traded cobs of corn for corn syrup and vine-plucked tomatoes for ketchup and ended up losing something integral in the process.

Luckily, we’re getting it back with the increasing popularity of community and backyard gardens and flourishing farmers’ markets. Conversely, as the pace of life everyday life continues to quicken, our eating habits are finally turning away from fast food and back toward slow food.

For Andy Nowak, a trained chef and full-time volunteer with Slow Food Denver the best way to make sure we don’t lose another generation of responsible eaters is to get kids in on the action. “People are losing touch with their own cultural recipes, as well as recipes form other parts of the world,” he says. “We’re working to change that.”

With schoolyard gardens in 35 Denver Public Schools, Slow Food Denver is making real headway in the quest. Each garden has volunteer parents who help the children prepare the soil and plant in the spring, maintain the plot during the summer and harvest in the fall.

“We start off in February, planting seeds in the classroom, and then transplant the seedlings into the school gardens in the spring,” Nowak explains. “The kids help care for [the gardens] over the summer, and bring in the harvest when they return in the fall.”

While the planting and upkeep of the gardens make for great civic and science lessons, Nowak sees the harvest as an especially salient lesson in heritage.

“The kids bring their harvest into the cafeteria where we make simple preparations like pestos and salsas. The kids do all the chopping and mixing and measuring, and at the end of the hour we’ve got a small feast. While we eat, we talk about the cultural significance of the recipes.”

A new relationship with Eat Denver hopes to bring the vast reservoirs of knowledge and goodwill the independent restaurateurs, chefs, and restaurant staff of Denver have to these student gardeners.
“Slow Food will work as a matchmaker,” Nowak says. “We’ll help find a restaurant for each school.” The grand idea being that once a restaurant is paired with a school, the full staff can donate their time and expertise to helping the students get the most out of their gardens.

“There’s more to a garden than just eating,” he continues. “There’s a lot of maintenance and we can use the help. When we talked to Eat Denver they made it clear that they wanted to engage the other members of the restaurant staff as well as the chefs.”

All of this goes to serve the high calling of getting a new generation of eaters comfortable growing, harvesting, and preparing meals.

“Kids can be a driving source for changing the dynamic at home,” Nowak says. “When I sit down with the kids and they eat things that their parent’s think they’ll never eat, it’s really gratifying. Kids are willing to try new things, and sometimes their parent’s don’t give them enough credit. The bottom line is that the kids love it. They absolutely love it.”
—Ben Jamon