Toyon Middle School cooking lesson

The seeds Toyon Middle School students planted in the spring are now being harvested, and they are getting to taste the fruits of their labor.

In Kevin Hesser's landscape/garden class, students have grown more than 500 pounds of food this year that they are putting to good use each Friday with classroom cooking lessons. The students have made potato leek soup, pesto pasta, stir fry, and last Friday made maple nut Hubbard squash with instruction from health coach and nutrition counselor Kristi Hyllen, owner of Kitchen Witch Coaching.

"This is the future of our nation's health and it's going to start with children," Hyllen said. "They need to know food."

Hyllen volunteered to teach cooking in the landscape/garden class this year after being introduced to the idea during a back-to-school night for her eighth-grade daughter, Courtney.

Hesser said the plan has always been to use the food from the school's garden in his class or home economics to teach the students how to cook, and when Hyllen came along it was a perfect match.

"That's always been the intention - to use this food to cook with the kids. ... It was kind of under (Hyllen's) motivation," Hesser said.

On Friday, Hyllen and Hesser also prepared a spaghetti squash salad for students to come in and try during their lunch break.

Freshly harvested vegetables are available each Friday for students to take home with them for the weekend.

"It's also just a life lesson for kids," Hesser said, adding that with so many people grabbing fast-food so often, it's important for students to learn how to prepare their own meals.

"(Students) see the process of preparing food straight from the ground and how it gets onto their plate."

Eighth-grader Brittany Rafferty and her classmates get to take more than just the produce home.

Each Friday, when Hyllen comes for a cooking instruction session, students take home the recipes to try themselves.

"I've tried a few (recipes)," Brittany said, adding that the potato leek soup was her favorite in the classroom but didn't come out the same at home. "The zucchini fritters I mastered," she added.

"It creates that full circle and cycle of what we're doing (in the garden) as well as giving kids the knowledge of how to take care of themselves and their families," Hesser said.

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