Ashlawn Elementary fifth-graders Isabelle Bristol and Carolina Smiltneks enjoyed growing lettuce for the Lawns 2 Lettuce 4 Lunch program, and they also had fun eating it. (Sarah Kaplan/The Washington Post)
Seven-year-old Laura Sawicki inspects her salad cautiously.
“I don’t really like to eat vegetables at home,” the first-grader confides.
But these are not just any vegetables. The lettuce for Laura’s salad comes from her school’s front yard and from the yards of more than 100 people living around Ashlawn Elementary in Arlington, Virginia. She and her classmates helped plant the seeds, monitored their growth and made sure they got enough water and sunlight.
Knowing all the work that went into her salad, Laura spears a lettuce leaf with her spork and takes a tentative bite.
The verdict? “It’s a little chewy, but not that chewy. It tastes really good.”
More than 50 pounds of lettuce were grown in gardens and front yards around Arlington for Ashlawn Elementary's “salad fiesta.” (Sarah Kaplan/The Washington Post)
Laura munches on a second sporkful of salad.
“And I like it because my school helped grow it,” she adds.
Those are exactly the words Joan Horwitt wants to hear. She’s the mastermind behind the Lawns 2 Lettuce 4 Lunch program, which coordinates the planting of thousands of lettuce plants in yards around the neighborhood each spring and fall. Each grade at Ashlawn has a different responsibility in caring for the plants: For example, second-graders charted the growth of the lettuce and fourth-graders prepared the soil.
“When you’ve seen the process from start to finish, it makes an impression on you,” Horwitt says. “There’s a story connected with the food, something that makes it special, so you’re more willing to try it.”
In the Ashlawn cafeteria, students, teachers and volunteers are celebrating the end of two months of hard work with a “salad fiesta.” All the lettuce grown this fall — more than 50 pounds of leaves — has been washed, chopped and mixed with 12 toppings and a dressing chosen by Ashlawn students. The bounty could feed more than 700 people.
Some people eat more than others. During the fourth-graders’ lunch period, 9-year-olds Siddharth Advani and Jason Brown-Ford compete to see who can eat the most salad.
Siddharth likes nearly every part of the Lawns 2 Lettuce 4 Lunch program: gardening, harvesting, learning about soil and rainfall. (“Everything except for the bugs,” he says.) But the salad fiesta is what he looks forward to most.
“This is so delicious,” he says, then waves down a volunteer to ask for a fifth serving.
Given the program’s success at Ashlawn, Horwitt would like to see other Arlington schools implement it. She dreams of a day when every cafeteria gets lettuce from a garden tended by its own students.
Third-grader Wyatt Hogan says kids at other schools would probably be on board with the idea. “I really like nature and helping things grow,” he says. “I think other kids would like it, too.”
Fancy Vinaigrette Salad Dressing
Feeling hungry for some salad? Try it with this “fancy vinaigrette,” created by Ashlawn Elementary neighbor Ron Battocchi and selected by students as their favorite salad dressing. Refrigerate the leftover dressing in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Shake well before using.
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
Pinch of oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
Whisk ingredients in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Using a ladle or a large spoon, put a small amount onto an individual serving of salad.