Elementary students rush into the cafeteria at North Buncombe Elementary School in Asheville, North Carolina. Kirk Fiore, a chef from the Biltmore, is here with kale pesto for the kids to taste. The kale was grown at the estate and prepared with these students in mind.
Today’s test test is part of the Biltmore’s efforts to support education and agriculture, which began when George Vanderbilt made the Biltmore his home in 1895. The Biltmore Estate now draws 1.4 million visitors each year, and is also a working farm.
Biltmore was a dairy and nursery for many years, but starting in the early 1980s, the farm began to diversify its production so that the restaurants on the estate could source ingredients grown on the property. Ted Katsigianis, Vice President of Agricultural Sciences at Biltmore, was a driving force behind the shift.
“We started with the idea that we wanted to go back to what George Vanderbilt had done, and that was to have an estate that produced all of the food that was consumed by the family, the staff, and the farm workers on the estate,” Katsigianis says. “So that was our vision.”
Today, the estate is home to Black Angus cattle, White Dorper sheep, chickens that provide meat and eggs to Biltmore restaurants, and even fields of canola. 60,000 students tour the farm each year. They observe several breeds of goats and heirloom chickens to learn about breed diversity and get to hold baby chicks, often for the first time.
“Let’s face it, most of these children have never been on a farm and so it’s a new experience, and especially getting up close and personal with animals, that’s something different,” Katsigianis says.
Biltmore chef Kirk Fiore continues that tradition by teaching kids about local produce. He says helping kids make positive memories around food—especially local vegetables—is important.
“I think the best way to educate people is to start with the children,” Fiore says. “They can take this recipe home with them, it’s very simple to make at home, and educate the parents and turn more people on to growing local produce and learning how to prepare it.”
Back in the cafeteria, the taste test results are in. The kale pesto is a hit. “I really loved it. It had this flavor and it hits the spot,” says one student. Another boy jumps in to say, “I like pesto and bread and Parmesan cheese and lemon juice and all that put together, it’s just really good!”
Across the cafeteria, a group of second graders has an “ah-ha” moment when they learn that they can grow kale in their backyards, just like they do at the Biltmore. They have lots of questions about how to get started.
One student asks, “Does the kale need a particular type of soil or can it be any type of soil?” Another girl wonders out loud, “Where do you buy kale seeds? Are they, like, from here or do they come from a different country?”
The kids are excited to learn that they can buy locally-grown kale seeds. They want to know how much water kale needs, and even how to look at kale under a microscope. You can see a spark of understanding in their faces when they realize that they can grow their own kale to make this recipe.
Farm to School taste tests help children make connections between the food on their plates and the soil where it was grown, and encourage kids to try fresh, local vegetables. Learn how to host your own taste test and find the kale pesto recipe at www.growing-minds.org