Local diet begins with local learning

The only thing Kirstyn Moore may love more than the earthy mint aroma of basil is cooking with fresh herbs and produce.

Kirstyn Moore

Kirstyn Moore

The only thing Kirstyn Moore may love more than the earthy mint aroma of basil is cooking with fresh herbs and produce.

“There’s no better place to be in the world besides your own herb garden,” said the 17-year-old aspiring chef.

“There’s always that sense of accomplishment, like, ‘Yeah, these are my ingredients. I literally made this from the ground to the table.’”

Even though the deep green cucumbers she hollowed and stuffed with juicy tomatoes, vibrant orange bell peppers and fragrant basil were not harvested from her family’s backyard garden, the Grade 12 Notre Dame High School student took pride in knowing the food came from local producers Pik’n Pak.

“It definitely tastes better and you feel a little better about it,” she said of using homegrown food, a purchase she noted helps the local economy.

Better quality, an economic boost for the community and, in some cases, environmental sustainability are often touted as the benefits associated with local eating, a movement that started gaining popularity with the release of books like The 100 Mile Diet.

But forget about the 100 Mile Diet.

Moore and her fellow food studies classmates are about to get an education in a 100-metre diet.

Herbs grown at the school are regularly used in the classroom kitchen.

Students will soon be chopping, dicing, sautéing and preparing the potted tomato, lettuce and radish plants growing in places like the school library and principal’s office.

And eventually, the young chefs will be creating dishes with the bounty they’ll help grow in a greenhouse that will be installed in the schoolyard.

Food studies teacher Jeff Lerouge was inspired to delve into food production after the Alberta government added an optional Farm to Table module in the curriculum this year.

Students are expected to learn how the meat, vegetables, grains and other foods they prepare are raised, grown and harvested.

Lerouge plans to take his Grade 12 students on a farm tour this spring, where they will select local products to create a scrumptious meal.

But the native Red Deerian with a small backyard vegetable garden wanted to plant the seed of the locavore movement a little deeper.

Students should have a hand in growing the food they prepare, he decided.

“It’s good for our community, it’s good for the environment and it’s good to eat,” he said of eating local food.

Lerouge applied for and received grants to start a school kitchen waste compost program and to purchase 10 EarthBox kits, indoor planters with grow lights that have been seeded with tomatoes, herbs, lettuce and radishes.

An all-season greenhouse was purchased for the school with another grant.

The eight-foot by 12-foot structure is expected to arrive by mid-May and will be built at the back of the school.

The students will help plant and care for a variety of crops, and Lerouge hopes some of the produce will be ripe enough for students to cook before they break for the summer.

Lerouge, however, will not take a break from promoting local eating this summer.

“It seems like people are interested in it but they don’t know where to start,” he said.

The former food safety auditor will teach three culinary arts classes — main courses, side dishes and desserts, and soups and appetizers — at Red Deer College’s Series: Summer School of the Arts in July.

“They’ll definitely come away with a good idea of what ingredients can be obtained locally and where from,” said Jillian Best, RDC continuing education co-ordinator.

“Eating local with Alberta ingredients is healthy for yourself and for our local economy. It can also taste really good.”

Lerouge doesn’t expect his high school and adult students to start eating a strictly homegrown diet as he himself does not find this appealing.

Still, Lerouge has been consciously purchasing local ingredients over the same items shipped in from all over the world even though he’s not willing to give up some foreign staples such as rice.

He hopes his students follow a similar balanced approach, not only because of taste but to also improve the food supply.

“If we want to have a sustainable system we have to start supporting our local producers,” Lerouge said.

Those interested in registering for Series culinary courses can do so online at www.rdc.ab.ca.