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By Laura Stec

I’ve Never Had Turnips Before

Uploaded: Feb 25, 2016

This week we Food Party! at a Mountain View grow & taste class at Monta Loma Elementary where the students are cultivating vegetables on school property and eating them as snack.

“I’ve never had turnips,” was a common response at Farm to Lunch. Not surprising feedback from 3rd and 4th graders, but how about you? Have you ever tasted the trending twang that is turnip?

Turnips are best when they are freshest; we are lucky in the Bay Area that they grow year-round. Get them at farmers markets or at stores where you know people buy them. Filled with vitamin C, residual sugar, and a touch of earthiness, vegetable-peel thinly to munch raw in salads. Or if you want to make them even sweeter Food Party! regulars, answer me this - what cooking techniques would you use to heighten the natural sugars of vegetables? New to The Food Party!? Then you have some extra reading, cuz, well, vegetables have a secret and you must find out what it is.

Bob Mencimer, chef for Mountain View Whisman School District (MVWSD) knows the secret. But wait, did I just say the school district has a chef? Wow. I don’t think any other public school district in our area does; the important position eliminated many moons ago by budget cuts and antiquated kitchens housing only ovens to reheat crappy commodity frozen foods still given to our children without much thought. Chef Bob’s got a new oven in his kitchen though, so hats off to MVWSD. He chose baking to bring out the secret, making Roasted Turnips and Turnip Greens with a White Balsamic Dressing.

The kids loved it.

Peninsula-based nonprofit Living Classroom sponsors Farm to Lunch, with support from the El Camino Healthcare District Community Benefit Program. They also sponsor Beyond the Bell, an after-school program where students plant the vegetables used in Farm to Lunch in more than 20 raised beds across the district.

- photo courtesy of Vicki Moore

Rockstar Mountain View / Palo Alto Garden Manager Patti Berryhill shares the ten winter vegetables to be harvested in coming weeks including broccoli, bok choy, Swiss chard, lettuce, beets, sugar snap peas, and potatoes. The school-grown produce is featured several times a month at all schools, so every student has the opportunity to graze from the garden.

Farm to Lunch week one harvested spinach into tossed salad, and week two transformed 23 pounds of kale into Kale Chips and kale salad. This week Farmer Patti harvested 21 pounds of turnip greens and 8 pounds of turnip roots. “Our first crop was planted in November 2015. The students help with all steps. Beyond the Bell does the garden work; when we harvest a crop, we immediately replant the bed.”

“Come get a taste,” Patti calls out to the children. “Harvested yesterday and eaten today.”

Many kids stop by to find out what’s going on. Some say no thank you, but most take a taste.

The reviews start coming in and the results are looking good.

A few say the turnips are a little strong, but even then they like the greens. Yes parents – they liked the greens. A number came back for seconds and thirds with reviews like “I want more, this is so good!” and “I would eat this every day.” At the end, 180 tastings are handed out (out of a school of 500 students), and I leave feeling soooo inspired.

Patti’s next goal is planting fruit trees. “We’ll do a community workday in the fall and always need volunteers.”

This enchanting program has a Wish List by the way. As they work to reduce waste and eliminate bottled water, the schools hope for a filtered water station where students can refill bottles brought from home. If you have any ideas, we’d love to hear them.

I still get tingles thinking about the program and the day. Kids like vegetables, and thank goodness there are efforts in our community helping them to discover this life-changing realization.

Chef Bob Mencimer, Ashley Morales on Noon Duty, Garden Manager Patti Berryhill