- Hillside Middle School
Great things are cooking with Spice Field Kitchen and PCSD Nutrition Services
January 13, 2020
For over a year, a healthy relationship has been developing between the Parma City School District and Spice Field Kitchen, providing tasty results and unique opportunities for PCSD students and families.
Spice Field Kitchen, the non-profit arm of the Spice Hospitality Group, is leading the charge with PCSD Nutrition Services to teach students and families the importance of healthy eating and using locally- sourced and sustainable agricultural methods. Paired with unique, grant-funded opportunities in partnership with the PCSD, these programs are having a real and unique impact for students.
The Spice Hospitality Group is truly a farm-to-table operation. The Spice Kitchen & Bar, located in the Gordon Square Arts District in Cleveland, serves locally sourced, sustainable food that is “in-season”, rather than items brought in from long distances. This is also true for the Spice Catering Company. Both ventures boast that 80 percent of their ingredients come from local family farms within 150 miles of Cleveland.
What makes Spice truly unique in the Cleveland area is Spice Acres and the Spice Field Kitchen. Members of the community can visit, learn, harvest and enjoy locally sourced vegetables and fruit at their farm, Spice Acres, located in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Brecksville.
Spice Field Kitchen works both at the farm and in the community, to educate and help spread this important nutritional message.
After attending a town hall meeting hosted by the PCSD and the Cuyahoga County Board of Health Feed Your Future program in the fall of 2018, Spice Field Kitchen’s Chief Operating Officer Steven Baker saw an opportunity to partner with the PCSD and the land lab at Pleasant Valley Elementary with grant funding through the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation.
“I met these fine folks and I had an idea,” Baker expressed. “What if we had classes come out to the farm in the fall. We would do 10 weeks of lessons in the classroom focusing on the community food system. That also has a cooking demonstration aspect of it, which a lot of our curriculum has…Then they could come back out in the spring and we could help set up their land lab in order to help give a learning environment for the classrooms. They can go outside and spend time watching the stuff they plant grow and interact with it. And, of course, feeding their cafeteria.”
During his time with students at Pleasant Valley and back on the farm at Spice Acres, Baker focused with students on the importance of locally sourced produce.
“A lot of what we focus on is nutrient density,” Baker expressed. “Really good, healthy soil gives really good, healthy plants. That in turn, provides a really healthy body when you consume them. That’s the kind of message we want these kids to walk away with.”
“In this day and age, with health issues being what they are for Americans, there is a disconnect between where your food comes from and how it affects your local economy,” Baker continued. “This is the reason that we started and have this curriculum for these kids. You want them to be able to open their minds and try new things. But, even more, so, it’s changing their perception of food. Kids, nowadays, often look at a French fry and they look at it as food. They don’t see a potato as food. It’s connecting where their food comes from.”
Growing and harvesting fresh produce at Pleasant Valley’s land lab and eventually throughout the PCSD is a year-round venture. Baker admits one thing that drew him to partner with the PCSD was the level of volunteerism from all over the district and community.
“We need community support to ensure that this land lab stays successful,” Baker said. “What’s really impressed me about Parma is the stakeholders that have all jumped on board to make this work…When I was invited to the very first Farm-to-School meeting, they had chefs from Normandy’s Culinary program, representatives from Transition Services about students coming out to get work experience, (PCSD Nutrition Services Supervisor) Bob Gorman, the grant writing department, the maintenance crews, staff, PTA – all to throw their support behind these programs to make sure that it works…I was super impressed, because it’s a daunting task.”
With hydroponic gardens and salad bars implemented throughout the district, the partnership between the PCSD and Spice continues to thrive even during cold winter months. Just before the winter recess, more spinach and kale were harvested from Pleasant Valley land lab and was served to students at the elementary and high school levels. The hydroponic gardens project continues to be developed to provide the most unique opportunities and partnerships possible for PCSD students.
“It’s been going great for all parties involved, especially our kids,” Gorman expressed. “They are being exposed to this fresh produce, learning how it’s grown and seeing how it’s grown... But I’d say it’s a very positive partnership and I hope we can expand it as we move forward with this new year…And teachers have been very interested to see what we are doing and learning what we are doing. The interest is very high district-wide and community-wide.”
PHOTO CAPTION: In the cafeteria at Pleasant Valley Elementary, Vickie Yates prepares fresh spinach from the land lab at the school, harvested on December 11.