It may be sacrilege to say so, but schools everywhere are gearing up for the next academic year (many in the south will start in as little as three weeks). As the days of sack lunches loom, I wanted to take a minute to report on what I learned over my summer vacation.
First, I fell in love (again) with my local farmer’s market. It became a favorite Saturday morning ritual—show up, take a couple laps around the stalls to see what’s good, catch a little of the cooking demo and a sweet iced tea before filling my tote bags. I learned that a market says as much about a community as it does what’s in season: the diversity of shoppers in Birmingham told me that we all care about quality produce at accessible prices. We also like to dance to bluegrass music as we buy.
Second, I discovered so many great efforts aimed at helping our kids eat healthier. The Chefs Move to Schools program, sponsored by the USDA, pairs local chefs with schools so they can create healthy meals that fit both dietary guidelines and state budgets. While it might seem impossible to get organic goods into big cafeterias, I met chef Chris Vizzina of Samford University (pictured) who brings homegrown produce into several schools and teaches cooks how to use it best.
Students and faculty can take a trip down to Jones Urban Valley Farm, a non-profit, community-run vegetable wonderland in downtown Birmingham, and pull carrots that will end up on their lunch plates. I learned that a humble carrot becomes much more exciting when planted, plucked, peeled and eaten with friends. PB&J’s, while a beloved staple, don’t have the same power.
Finally, I learned that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing. I brought home over a gallon of blueberries from a picking excursion last weekend. While I know I should share, I selfishly won’t, so freezer space may be limited for the next few weeks. Smoothies, anyone?