Since the late 1990s, CRMS has had a working garden program. The garden sits centrally on the CRMS campus and spans nearly two acres consisting of organic vegetable gardens, a nursery, composting program, a greenhouse, hoop house, potting shed, and a small apple orchard. In keeping with the school’s academic mission, the garden serves not only as a key source of food for the CRMS kitchen, but also as a vehicle to provide hands-on agricultural education for students.
In season, the garden produces a wide array of produce including carrots, onions, beets, turnips, rutabagas, potatoes, raspberries, leeks, kale, chard, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, summer and winter squash, pumpkins, rhubarb, asparagus, beans, peas, garlic, basil, melons, and a multitude of culinary herbs. In addition, the orchards produce apples and apricots.
One hundred percent of this harvest goes to the CRMS kitchen program. Beginning in mid-April, students and staff start bringing in the fruit and vegetables and continue through mid-November. To preserve the harvest during the summer months when the students are not around, garden and kitchen staff endeavor to preserve the bulk of the harvest by freezing, pickling, or storing it in a root cellar. In the fall when the students return, CRMS offers a first-quarter “garden harvest” work crew in which students help to harvest and store over 6,000 pounds of the remaining produce. In this way, the kitchen is able to utilize stored carrots and onions well into the winter months. Over the course of a year, approximately 25% of the produce (approximately 8,000 pounds) utilized by the school will have originated from the CRMS garden.
In addition to the food harvest, all of the food waste and paper products from the cafeteria are collected and composted on-site. During the nine months that school is in session, this comprises 750 pounds of waste weekly. The composting piles are ready for spreading on the gardens within a year. This composting effort keeps over 31,000 pounds of waste out of the landfill annually and provides nutrient-rich compost for the crops.
But the gardening and composting efforts are only half of the CRMS story. When you think of institutional cafeteria settings serving hundreds of people daily, images of mass-produced, non-descript, and unhealthy meals spring to mind. Fiona O’Donnell Pax, CRMS’s Director of Food Services, hopes to change that stereotype forever.
O’Donnell Pax began professionally cooking 20 years ago. After traveling throughout Europe and the Caribbean, she received her culinary degree in Ireland. She spent three years as a chef at a high-end restaurant in Carbondale. O’Donnell Pax joined CRMS in 2007, intrigued by the school’s philosophy and commitment to sustainability and the concept of preparing meals for the students that came straight from the garden.
With a vision to provide healthy, nutritious, sustainable meals to the students, similar to the types of meals she would provide for her own family, O’Donnell Pax focused on eliminating processed and unnatural foods and on using locally grown and organic foods whenever possible. In addition to offering vegetarian options, O’Donnell Pax is sensitive to the ethnic preferences of CRMS’s international students, which comprise 20% of the school’s population and hail from Asia to Africa.
Preparing approximately 500 meals a day, the kitchen staff is busy making delicious and healthy food. Breakfast typically includes homemade granola, organic cereals, and a hot meal of eggs, pancakes, and whole-grain toast. Lunch includes a main entrée, which can range from a hot sandwich to pasta to a stew, plus a full salad and sandwich bar always featuring in-season fresh fruit. Dinner always has appetizers, a fresh salad bar, a meat and vegetarian entrée, two fresh vegetables (never canned or frozen), and a homemade dessert.
In addition to the entire CRMS student body, faculty, and staff enjoying these nutritious, gourmet meals, all four quarters have two kitchen work crews where students learn how to prep the evening meal, bake from scratch, and acquire cooking skills, giving the participating students an idea of what it takes to be a chef.
We live in a time of limited resources and an uncertain future, and the need to leave a smaller environmental footprint for the generations to come is at an all-time high. CRMS’s 60-year-old practice of teaching a strong work ethic and creating an interest in sustainability has led to the unprecedented institutional garden and food program that benefit everyone in the CRMS community. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s future and, thanks to the CRMS garden-to-table programs, students are inspired to take the ethics and practices learned at CRMS and apply those principles as they enter the world, making it a better place for everyone.
Learn more about the CRMS Organic Garden Learning Center
Click here to see the blog post In the Garden that Grows