Chicago North Shore restaurant, Prairie Grass Cafe (601 Skokie Blvd.; Northbrook, IL.; 847-205-4433) has partnered with Ravinia School students by featuring their hydroponically grown lettuce on the menu. Each week the members of the Green Growers Club along with program head, third grade teacher Dennis Brosseau, deliver a shipment of freshly harvested green butter lettuce to Prairie Grass Cafe chefs Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris. The lettuce is featured as the special Ravinia School Salad that is served with blue cheese dressing, apple slices and warm croutons ($9.50).
"The lettuce is delicious and the children have been a joy to work with. It's rewarding to see their energy and enthusiasm. Supporting this in-school project is foundational in what we hope to achieve at Prairie Grass Cafe. Our country's future is dependent on the health and education of our children. Our partnership with Ravinia Elementary School hits to the heart of how business and community can work together to empower our children. Everyone benefits. I strongly believe that having a food curriculum in school is paramount. The kids get to see where food comes from beginning to end and each step of the way. It changes the way they think and ultimately educates them in making smarter food choices," said Sarah Stegner.
"The experience has been wonderful!" remarked Brosseau. "Sarah, George, and Dan [Sviland, general manager of Prairie Grass Cafe] have embraced the opportunity to feature our product. We deliver it by 4:15 p.m. each Friday, and it sells out by Sunday. My family and friends have eaten the salad at the Cafe and it is wonderful like all of their food."
The Green Growers Club operates in two sessions; from September to April they focus on the hydroponically grown lettuce. Thirty-five students are involved in the program, divided into five teams. The school's greenhouse contains seven growing tables where students plant the lettuce on a staggered basis, ensuring a crop harvest each week. Every Monday additional plants are germinated. By 4 p.m. Friday, 24 to 36 heads of lettuce are ready to be harvested and sold to Prairie Grass Café as well as teachers, the Highland Park Board of Education, and to other buyers.
In April for the spring session, the club switches its focus to soil plants. Students in grades kindergarten through second grade plant dwarf sunflower plants. By May the students have an opportunity to present those plants as Mother's Day gifts. The third grade students will plant and nurture upwards of 600 zinnia and cockscomb celosia plants to sell at the upcoming Third Grade Plant Sale in early June. Several hundred of these plants can be found throughout the school, beautifying the grounds. Students also grow medium sized tomato plants and basil pots to sell. The Green Growers Club follows the students throughout their time at Ravinia, and when the students are ready to move on to another school they are gifted with a potted basil plant.
The program was started by now retired teacher, Paul Grant, "My friend... now retired, started growing basil hydroponically in his classroom many years ago. I apprenticed with a table in my classroom, too. In 1999 he approached the Parent Teacher Organization about building a greenhouse for the students to use. After a conscientious fund raising effort by the parents and staff, the greenhouse was built in 2000. The Green Growers Club grew basil, Paul's baby, for many years. When he retired, I took over and lettuce became our main cash crop, along with the annual, June Third Grade Plant Sale," said Brosseau.