As the modern food system has changed, many of us have become disconnected from the food we put on our tables. One of Bon Appétit Management Company’s goals for the Garden at AT&T Park’s community program is to show the new generation where real food comes and reestablish a connection with the earth through interactive activities.
Last week two Garden partners, YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco, brought 20 elementary school–aged students from their Tenderloin locations to join us for two hours of hands-on learning. The kids’ excitement, energy, and curiosity were palpable as they entered the gates of AT&T Park. For many, it was their first visit to the ballpark, and their eyes widened with wonder as they were welcomed at the gates by the Giants’ mascot, Lou Seal, who led them over to a table to make name tags.
Hannah Schmunk, Bon Appétit’s Garden community development manager, and I kicked off the fun with a scavenger hunt. The Garden instantly became a swarm of energetic children in search of fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
“The Garden comes alive when the kids are in it. I just love it!” said Shennen Brady, Garden sous chef.
“What are herbs?” asked Mateo, stumped by the scavenger hunt. Hannah and I explained the role of herbs in flavoring food (as well as perfumes, medicines, and teas) and then we all tasted some. The children closed their eyes and chewed thoughtfully.
“This one tastes like toothpaste!” said Jessica, who was munching on a mint leaf. “It tastes like bubble gum!” yelled another. These comments provided the perfect opportunity to connect toothpaste and bubble gum to where their flavors originate: plants in the soil.
The kids took a seat on the Garden’s grassy section to learn about the six plant parts — seeds, roots, stem, leaves, fruits, and flowers, passing around samples of each. After hearing about what roots do, we harvested a carrot. For stems, we located the edible leek stems growing tall in the garden. And for leaves, we showed the diversity of kale we grow and explained that it’s Hunter Pence’s favorite!
Next we moved on to the Garden Kitchen to make “Plant Parts Pizza.” (We’re fortunate to have two functioning kitchens on either side of the garden that we can use to share our garden-to-table food philosophies.)
Shennen demonstrated how to make pizza step by step. She began the cooking demo with wheat in hand, explaining the connection between the wheat plant and pizza dough. Once the dough had been mixed, kneaded, and rolled, the kids delightedly watched Shennen skillfully toss the dough in the air.
Brian West, a Bon Appétit executive chef at a technology company, showed the kids how to top their pizzas — sauce then vegetables then cheese, cautioning not to overload them. He made a face out of his demo pizza, with greens for hair — and then was teased by one of the kids for not having any himself.
After Shennen and Brian’s demonstration, the students were enthusiastic about making their own unique pizzas. “No pepperoni?” Matt asked, sounding shocked and a little disappointed. “I like pepperoni!”
While Shennen was carefully cooking the pizzas in the oven, Brian and the kids cut up strawberries, blueberries, canteloupe, kiwis, and bananas for fruit salad.
Then it was time to eat!
With a little encouragement, many of the kids tried vegetables they’d never thought of as pizza toppings or even eaten before, including broccolini and mixed greens. Jayden tried leeks and cherry tomatoes. “The mushrooms…I never used to like them but now I do,” said Paulina. (Everyone loves Shennen’s roasted mushrooms!) Even Matt forgot to miss pepperoni as he gobbled down his “Plant Parts Pizza.”
“Remember, your taste buds are changing all the time, so something you thought was yucky might start tasting good to you,” said Hannah.
The kids’ energy and enthusiasm were the spark that made our program launch a great success. As the class ended, Andrew exclaimed, “This was the best day ever!” This warmed my heart.
On behalf of the entire team, let me be the first to say we couldn’t be more excited for the future of the Garden at AT&T Park and our new community outreach program.
By Sam Wilder, Community Development & Gardening Associate