Gardening at Southern for a PHeaSt

Posted: October 11, 2012

For these 14 culinary arts students at South Philadelphia High School, the experience isn't exactly farm-to-table, though that's the idea. More like dog park-to-kitchen.

They spend one class period outside in the school's new garden - two modest patches of asphalt on either side of the parking lot, now off-limits to pooches. Last March, the spaces were fenced and "planted" with 21 raised beds, and these days, they burst with broccoli, chard, kale, beets, peppers, carrots, arugula, and herbs, which the kids poke and sniff, sample with a smile or a scowl - and finally, harvest.

For their next class period, they trickle back inside Southern, as the school is known. In the kitchen/classroom, the pace picks up. The promise of delicious free food can do that, and in 30 short minutes, they've built buttery omelets and vegetable lasagna with their own hot peppers, carrots, and basil.

You never know. One day, the boy who happily chops hot peppers on a cutting board may blossom into a chef. The girl who pronounces arugula "gross" may even farm in the city.

For now, they're all players in an Oct. 19 fund-raiser called PHeaSt that truly is a farm-to-table event. The uppercased P, H, and S indicate that this is the brainchild of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to raise money for its City Harvest program, which enlists gardeners across the city to grow and donate organic produce to families in need.

PHeaSt works like this: About two dozen gardeners and farmers have been paired with chefs. The former are growing the produce that the latter will use to create a dish that - it's hoped - 250 guests will get to sample at the event, which is being held at the Navy Yard.

For example, Henry Got Crops, a farming partnership between Weavers Way Co-Op and students at W.B. Saul Agricultural High School in Roxborough, is growing for chef Al Paris of Heirloom restaurant in Chestnut Hill. Paris is thinking along the lines of "a little pumpkin-kale torte because it's that time of year," with a topping of carrot "bacon." (He'll brine the carrots, smoke them, then bake them in the oven with molasses and pepper.)

"It's part of the loop. It's like the next thing - farmers and kids and chefs," Paris says. "It's very natural now when you're talking about chefs and fresh local ingredients."

While PHS' annual Flower Show raises money for all of its greening programs, this is the first fund-raiser dedicated to City Harvest, which has collected and given away more than 180,000 pounds of fresh produce since its inception in 2006.

"There's just such momentum around healthy eating and locally grown food," said the society's Kate Wilhelm Chimicles, "and we'd like to increase the focus on this program."

City Harvest began in 2006 on the Philadelphia Prison System grounds in Northeast Philadelphia, where inmates started vegetable seedlings to give to community gardeners in the program. Now, three more greenhouses across the city are engaged, boosting seedling production to hundreds of thousands a year.

They're distributed to about 100 growers in Philadelphia, who plant crops in spring, summer, and fall.

Sharat Somashekara, PHS food crop specialist, wants to expand the program outside the city; one garden each in Chester and Elkins Park are already involved. He also hopes to plant more orchards, cultivate closer ties with the region's immigrants, many of whom have farming experience, and after the Oct. 19 event, collaborate more with local chefs and restaurants.

"It's so gratifying to work hard and have a chef take your produce . . . and make it into a dish that's really appetizing," says Somashekara, who managed an organic vegetable farm before coming to PHS.

Margaret Funderburg of Mount Airy took the opposite path. A photographer/videographer at PHS for more than a decade, she was laid off 18 months ago and decided to turn her small garden plot into Gold Coin Farm, a 40-by-200-foot plot at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in upper Roxborough.

"I had a lifelong fantasy of being a farmer and I had this opportunity, so I went for it - at 55 years old," Funderburg says.

For PHeaSt, she's growing for chef Valerie Erwin of Geechee Girl Rice Cafe in Germantown, who's making a seasonal relish with roasted eggplant, tomatoes, onions, jalapeño and serrano peppers, honey, and vinegar.

"A little bit sweet, a little bit tangy," she says.

Back at Southern, Molly Devinney, garden coordinator for the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association, which is working with the high school on its garden, is trying to make those distinctions with her students. She has them taste the very tangy arugula, which some like and some spit out.

Finally, a lesson everyone can enjoy: Grow basil, harvest basil, put fresh basil on homemade pizza or pasta. This is where culinary arts teacher Nancy Hansell comes in.

"What's basil?" one student asks. "If it smells like pizza, that's it," Hanswell replies.

Junior Katie Carosiello is already on it. "I love the smell of basil," she says, as she places a dozen fresh-picked leaves - just so - atop a layer of lasagna noodles.


The feast to benefit the City Harvest program of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is Oct. 19, 7-10 p.m., at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, 4747 S. Broad St. Tickets: $150, VIP $300.

Guests will be able to sample seasonal dishes and meet the chefs and growers who created them. Chefs include Jon Cichon of Lacroix at the Rittenhouse, Andrew and Kristin Wood of Russet, Aimee Olexy of Talula's Garden, Judith Suzarra-Campbell and Robert F. Campbell Jr. of Sazon, and Wyatt P. Lash Jr. of the Whip Tavern.

Information: 215-988-8894 or

Garden coordinator Molly Devinney explains how she deals with insect pests in the garden at South Philadelphia High School, which is taking part in a fund-raiser that pairs gardeners and chefs.

Raw Beet "Ravioli"

Makes 4 to 6 appetizer servings

1 large beet, peeled and sliced thinly on mandolin

1 cup of almonds, soaked  for at least 2 hours

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 sunchoke

1/2 cup walnuts

2 cloves garlic

1 cup arugula

1 small bunch of basil

Olive oil to taste

Balsamic vinegar to taste

Lemon juice, to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Marinate the sliced beet in olive oil and garlic for at least an hour

2. Drain and rinse the soaked almonds. Puree in food processor, adding water until smooth. Put mix in a mesh strainer with a container underneath and let sit overnight. Add salt and pepper and mustard to this "almond cheese" mix.

3. Grate the sunchoke. Chop walnuts in food processor; add 2 garlic cloves, pulse. Add arugula and basil and pulse. While pulsing add olive oil until texture is just slightly chunky. Add arugula mix to sunchokes. Add balsamic, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

4. Lay our beet slices. Top with almond cheese. Top with another beet slice. Add arugula pesto to garnish.

- Recipe courtesy of A Full Plate Cafe and growers Aviva Asher, Corrie Spellman, and Addison Vawters of Teens 4 Goode

Per serving (based on 6): 191 calories, 7 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 16 grams fat, no cholesterol, 75 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

Winter Kale and Princess Pumpkin Tarts With Carrot "Bacon"

Makes 12 servings

For the pumpkin mixture:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, diced to 1/4 inch

4 bell peppers (2 red, 2 yellow) seeded, diced to 1/4 inch

2 Fresno chiles, seeded, diced to 1/4 inch

1/2 cup chopped garlic

1 teaspoon curry

2 teaspoons turmeric

2 tablespoon sea salt

1 teaspoon ground white  pepper

2 cups chopped celery tops

1 bunch chopped thyme

8 cups peeled, seeded, and diced Princess pumpkin

4 cups water

For the winter kale mixture:

6 cups washed, chopped  green kale

1 ounce olive oil

1 tablespoon sea salt

For the carrot "bacon":

4 large carrots, peeled and  sliced lengthwise and cut to 1/16th inch with a mandoline

2 ounces brown sugar

1 ounce blackstrap molasses

1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon sea salt

For the savory tart dough:

4 cups flour

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup water

1 1/3 cups vegetable shortening (1 1/3 cups unsalted butter may be substituted)

1. To begin preparing Princess pumpkin mixture, saute the onions, peppers, and chiles in the olive oil. Add the garlic, curry, turmeric, sea salt, and white pepper and saute until soft. Add the celery tops, thyme, and pumpkin and saute for 12 minutes. Add 4 cups of water. Cover and simmer softly for an hour. Stir and let rest for 10 minutes. Chop in a food processor and reserve.

2. To prepare the kale mixture, saute the kale in the olive oil with the salt. When wilted, cool and chop in food processor.

3. To prepare the carrot "bacon," toss the sliced carrots in a mixture of brown sugar, molasses, salt and pepper. Let rest, covered, for 1 hour. Cold smoke with applewood chips for 1 hour at no more than 120 degrees. Remove, and place back in pan drippings. Refrigerate overnight. Place on parchment paper, well spaced on a sheet pan. Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar. Roast in oven at 300 degrees as you would bacon until golden brown and crisp. "Bacon" will slightly dehydrate.

4. For the tart dough, in a mixer with a dough hook, place flour and salt. On slow speed, add a half cup of water. Slowly cut in the shortening. Press into mini tart shells and chill. Bake at 325 degrees, until golden brown and flaky. Cool and take out of molds.

5. To serve, stuff tart shells with warm kale mixture, then top with pumpkin mixture. Top with crisp carrot "bacon." Add a nice grind of fresh pepper and serve with a good-quality dry Champagne.

- From chef Al Paris of Heirloom Fine American Cookery, with grower Henry Got Crops, a partnership between Weavers Way Co-op and students at W.B. Saul Agricultural High School in Roxborough

Per serving: 541 calories, 8 grams protein, 62 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams sugar, 31 grams fat, no cholesterol, 2,318 milligrams sodium, 9 grams dietary fiber.

Contact Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or

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