• Melanie Smith-Bell

The Sweet Farm's Sour Pickles: Harvest of the Month

Chef Sean Thomas, FCPS Dietitian Monica Skidmore, and Rachel Armistead of The Sweet Farm, along with the Farm to School Planning Team, visited North Frederick Elementary School to introduce cucumbers. Of course cucumbers are not in season in Frederick during the month of February, so the second grade students also learned about pickling as a means of preserving vegetables so that they can be eaten when the growing season is over.

Monica Skidmore Introduced the Farm to School team and explained what everyone's responsibilities are, and what her role as the dietitian for FCPS means for students. They are familiar with cucumbers from their regular lunch menu, which she creates for them every day. The second grade are definitely fans of pickles, judging from the cheers, and were enthusiastic about this experience.

Then, Chef Sean got hands on involvement by inviting student volunteers to participate in a cooking demonstration for his Sweet Cucumber Salad recipe. Students learn about food safety practices, are introduced to new vocabulary, how to properly use kitchen tools, and apply fractions and units of measure to their task with an exciting learning experience that takes the format of a cooking show for their friends.

When the students were finished assembling their salad, farmer Rachel explained the life cycle of a cucumber, showing pictures of them from her farm in various stages of growth. She talked about the pollination process and pollinators, which is part of second grade science curriculum, and explained that a cucumber grows from a pollinated flower. We may think of it as a vegetable, but many things we consider vegetables are actually fruits because this pollination process is what defines a fruit.

She then explained pickling, and how their pickles--in contrast to the vinegar in the salad--get their flavor through the fermentation process that they use. Beneficial bacteria already present on the cucumber make them sour and also make them healthy for our microbiome "in our guts"! She also showed the students all of the ingredients that go into pickled cucumbers, and introduced them to pictures of a variety of vegetables that can be pickled. No one was able to guess what the sun choke was--although several students did guess ginger, which was a great thought.

Then the students were able to sample fresh cucumbers, Chef Sean's Cucumber Salad recipe, and tasty, garlicky dill pickles from The Sweet Farm. Haylee Staruck from the University of Maryland Ag Extension Office Food Supplement Nutrition Education program explained to them how they would tally their votes on the tasting experience as well as teaching the students an important "Don't Yuck My Yum!" lesson, encouraging them to try new things with open minds and share their experiences with regard to those around them.

The North Frederick second graders were a wonderful audience of eager learners and a pleasure to visit with for the entire team.

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