Paul Finkelstein Saves the School Lunch

Children working in a garden with their father

Paul Finkelstein is a happy man: earlier in the day that I spoke to him a group of grade two kids, from the local elementary school had taken a tour of the patch of land he and a handful of high school students grow vegetables on. He beamed, “It was amazing to see them in the gardens picking product and then eating raw beets, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, basil, Swiss chard. This was the true vision of the garden and today it was fulfilled for me.”

That vision was more than just a hobby garden, it was Seeds of Change a program he started last April with seeds donated by Antony John, the organic farmer whose Soiled Reputation greens are served in some of the province’s top restaurants and who starred as the Manic Organic on his Food Network show. Naturally much of what was planted was heirloom, and outside of foodie circles a little exotic. But what makes this market garden different is that it was planted on 3,000 square feet of schoolyard at Stratford Northwestern Secondary School. The “farmers” who planted and tended these crops over the spring and summer are actually high school students of Finkelstein’s and the “market” for these certified organic vegetables is the student cafe he and the students run as well as the kids at the elementary school that shares the premises with NSS. Alice and Jamie have nothing on this guy.

I ask Finkelstein if the kids ever complained about tending to the garden. He replies that the only kids who occasionally grumbled were the ones who actually lived on farms, since they’d usually come form doing a bunch of chores anyway.

Seeds of Change is a natural progression from Finkelstein’s first project: The Screaming Avocado Cafe, the student run cafeteria where the ex-chef got his culinary Arts Program students to provide healthy, gourmet meals as an alternative to the French fry sodden regular fare being offered by the school. Now the Ministry of Health and the Avon-Maitland District School Board, as well as the environmental organization Evergreen and the Perth Community Futures Development Corporation have got behind him and his students will feed the elementary kids in the building five days a week.

Gremolata readers will remember our coverage of the Slow Food Youth symposium he organized and his exchange with students for Salt Spring Island. And now Finkelstein and his programs is really starting to get noticed, starting an article in Saveur this month.

Finkelstein’s program is seen as so innovative that federal government asked him and his students to represent Canada at this summer’s Expo in Japan, where they cooked at the Canadian Pavilion and he and the students ate as much fresh fish as they could.

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