How a Parent Started a School Garden and Got Fresh Vegetables on Lewisville ISD Menus

Matt McCallister of FT33, Jennifer Bajsel of Getting Saucy Catering, Oscar Miranda of Wholesome Grub and Joe Baker of Joe the Baker will team up with Independence Gardens for Garden To Table 2017 on Saturday, May 6.EXPAND
Matt McCallister of FT33, Jennifer Bajsel of Getting Saucy Catering, Oscar Miranda of Wholesome Grub and Joe Baker of Joe the Baker will team up with Independence Gardens for Garden To Table 2017 on Saturday, May 6.
Chris Wolfgang

When her children started at Independence Elementary in Castle Hills, Chonnie Richey wanted to be involved. After learning what her kids were eating at school, she knew just how she wanted to help.

"As a parent, I want my kids to eat fresh food," Richey says.

At home, that decision is easy to make, but when children are at school, they're at the whim of the cafeteria menu. With the help of several other parents, Richey worked with the Lewisville Independent School District and the elementary school to start Independence Gardens in 2013. On school grounds, students, teachers and volunteers planted a garden with the goal of providing fresh fruits and vegetables to be used during lunch time. As the daughter of a pediatrician, Richey saw the value of educating children on what they're eating.

"Obviously, we wanted to connect kids with food they grow and food they eat," Richey says. "When you help kids make better food choices, overall healthcare costs can go down as well."

Over the past three years, Independence Gardens has expanded to provide fresh food to other schools in the district, as well as providing food for the high school students in The Colony High School's culinary program. This year, Independence Garden volunteers wanted to come up with a bigger event to raise awareness of the benefits of starting healthy and sustainable eating habits at a younger age.

"We came up with Garden To Table, where we'd get professional chefs to cook a meal using food from our gardens," Richey says. They recruited several local chefs into the event: Robby Hooker from Two Chefs at the Coppell Farmer's Market signed on, and asked his good friend Joe Baker of Joe the Baker to volunteer. Chef Jennifer Bajsel, who worked under John Tesar at Spoon, and Oscar Miranda from Wholesome Grub joined the effort, too. Richey liked the enthusiasm of the group, but was still looking for one more chef.

"Everyone told me I needed to talk to Matt," she says.

The chefs of Garden To Table 2017 give students from Independence Elementary a quick lesson in making salads, using ingredients sourced from the school's own garden.EXPAND
The chefs of Garden To Table 2017 give students from Independence Elementary a quick lesson in making salads, using ingredients sourced from the school's own garden.
Chris Wolfgang

Matt is chef Matt McCallister, owner of Dallas' FT33.

"Chonnie reached out to me as part of LISD doing this garden program in their schools. With my restaurant, we're really big into trying to source everything locally, and I teach my people where everything comes from."

As a father of a 7-year-old, McCallister saw working with Independence Gardens as a natural extension of what he does at FT33.

"I want to show kids where food comes from, which is really important," McCallister says. "In this day and age, we get farther and farther away from knowing where our food comes from. I think that connection is important. I think nutrition in schools is just bad, when eating balanced diets, eating fresh foods and eating seasonally is possible."

As a group, the chefs will develop a six-course menu, and students from The Colony High School's culinary program will be their sous chefs. The event will be held at Independence Elementary, giving the chefs and their understudies access to the gardens literally steps away from the kitchen – and showing children just how great a meal can be when made with using ingredients they grew themselves.

Garden To Table, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6 at Independence Elementary, 2511 Windhaven Parkkway, Lewisville. Tickets are $75 and limited to 100 diners.


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