Garden fresh

Local abundance: A wheelbarrow bursting with ArtSchool garden produce, including melons, potatoes and fresh basil. Photos courtesy of ArtSpace

On Friday, Sept 23, ArtSpace Charter School hosts Dinner in the Garden, an event featuring a nine-course tasting menu prepared by local chefs cooking produce cultivated by the students. The event will take place in the school’s learning garden.

ArtSpace is a kindergarten through eighth-grade tuition-free public school in its 11th year of operations. The school works to integrate the arts with a standard curriculum, helping facilitate the learning process for young minds, says Stephanie Wallace, ArtSpace garden coordinator. "Kids K through eight learn science through drama, literature through visual arts and math through dance — all of our core subjects are integrated into the visual and performing arts," she says. "It's brain-based research. The numbers prove that it's a good thing for a lot of kids, especially those who struggle with learning differences."

While other public schools are cutting funding to arts-based programming, as a charter school, ArtSpace can decide where they to focus its resources, Wallace says. "And the culinary arts — and programs like our garden — are just as important [as the other arts]," Wallace says.

The ArtSpace garden is a place where students learn about the origins of their food — as in the case of the potatoes they dug up the other day. Wallace says that many of the children had never made the connection that a potato can be made into french fries. The kids recently brought the vegetables, herbs and flowers that they'd grown to the state fair, where they earned a few blue ribbons and judges' choice awards. “Talk about pride,” says Wallace. “The kids were just beaming.”

The garden is also at the heart of many art projects, from leaf pressings to sitting among the flowers and vegetables to write or sketch. "We've got so much going on down there," she says. "We thought that this dinner would be a great way to both raise a little money for the garden and to showcase the hard work that's gone into starting it and incorporating it into the curriculum."

Besides the feel-good aspect of the dinner, expect it to taste good, too. Plant, Corner Kitchen, Tomato Jam Café, Laurey's Catering, Farm and Sparrow and others will be be involved. Dinner will be served on white-tablecloth-covered tables in the garden, with live cello music in the background. “It's a stellar lineup,” says Wallace. “Everyone is being so generous with their time and resources.”

The school garden will provide as much produce as possible for the dinner; the rest of the goods will be supplied by local farms. Before the event even takes place, chefs will visit to cook with the children and to select sous chefs who will assist them during the event. Ashley Capps from A-B Tech's culinary program is one of the chefs involved, and plans to walk the children through the art of making bread — from the ground up. Capps will harvest the amaranth that the kids have grown in the garden, show them how to mill it into flour and then bake bread with it.

Dinner in the Garden will also be a waste-free event, says Wallace. Greenlife is donating compostable plates and utensils, and all of the dish-ware will go into a wheelbarrow at the end of the night to be picked up by Danny's Dumpsters, the local business owned by Danny Keaton that handles the waste disposal for many area restaurants and events, including LAAFF.

"I want this to be the ultimate dinner to feel good about," says Wallace. “The local food scene in Asheville is amazing, but if we're not concentrating on getting that message to kids, we're just doing part of the job in Asheville.”

Dinner in the Garden takes place on Friday, Sept. 23, from 6 until 8 p.m. The event will include a raffle and live music and takes place at ArtSpace Charter School at 2030 U.S. Highway 70 in Swannanoa. For more information, visit artspacecharter.org.

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