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Farm-to-School program grows at Kennedy School with greenhouse addition

Nov 21, 2022

Students to grow herbs, vegetables from seed and harvest them for use in cooking class

When students in Amy Quinn’s culinary arts class need a sprig of parsley to add to their soup or main dish, they’ll soon be able to pop over to the school’s greenhouse to snip a piece from the herbs growing there.

In September, the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy School at St. Coletta’s of Illinois installed a greenhouse outside its culinary arts classroom, enabling students to grow their own herbs and vegetables year-round.

“I can’t wait until we get it up and running,” said Quinn, who plans to teach students everything from germination and how plants grow to gathering the produce and using the herbs and vegetables to cook healthy meals.

A grant from the FDC Foundation helped pay for the new greenhouse, enhancing the school’s Farm-to-School project that educates youth ages 14-22 on the importance of nutrition and building life-long healthy habits.

Students at Kennedy School started growing fruits and vegetables in raised garden beds several years ago. And even though some of the garden beds are inside an atrium, the growing season is short -- limiting their access to home-grown produce.

Now, with the greenhouse, they will have access to fresh herbs and produce 365 days a year, including parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage and chives as well as eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. They even plan to grow mushrooms.

“This is something we can do year-round,” said Quinn, who introduced the Farm-to-School program in May 2021.

She and fellow culinary teacher Belen Hernandez teach students about the importance of nutrition, applying what they learn in the classroom to hands-on meal prep with the fruits, vegetables and herbs that they grow.

Past dishes have included stuffed green peppers, fresh salsa, sautéed vegetables, Italian pasta salad with vegetables and fresh herbs, homemade spaghetti sauce and Caprese salad.

“One of their favorite dishes to make is Thanksgiving soup,” said Quinn. “We make with our leftovers (from the school’s Thanksgiving dinner).”

Every year, students in the culinary arts program cook a traditional feast with all the fixings for students and staff to enjoy the week of Thanksgiving.

This year’s feast included nine turkeys.

Founded in 1949 by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Coletta’s of Illinois provides a lifelong continuum of care beginning in early childhood. Its school serves nearly 100 students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, providing classroom instruction, therapeutic interventions, life-skills, transition programs and vocational training to students throughout the south, southwest and western suburbs.

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