IMG_0489On a quiet, residential, inner southeast Portland, Oregon street, a little elementary school is breaking new ground for the farm-to-school and school garden movement.

At Abernethy Elementary, students enjoy freshly cooked breakfasts and lunches prepared on site by a trained chef. The meals are often prepared with local and seasonal ingredients, some of which are harvested from the school’s Garden of Wonders. The garden itself is entirely planted, tended and harvested by the students, who use it throughout their school day as a “learning laboratory. “

IMG_1282The garden program and scratch kitchen are parts of a unique wellness policy at Abernethy. A full-time physical education teacher encourages the students to enjoy physical activity. Enthusiastic parents walk and bike their kids to school rather then driving. Parents and staff organize a yearly bike-a-thon to raise money for the school that allows Abernethy students to ride bikes and scooters on car-free streets. Chef Nicole and Garden Coordinator Sarah Sullivan run five weeks of summer camps at the school, where they teach everything from pickling to pasta making, permaculture and organic bio-intensive gardening.

Founded in 2000 by a dedicated group of parents and teachers, the School Kitchen Garden program began as just a community garden plot. Teachers agreed to add garden class as an additional extracurricular class for students. In the past 11 years, the program has grown to include a rigorous garden curriculum aimed at supporting state standards in math, science, English, health and social studies. (Look for a free compendium of these teacher-friendly garden lessons for grades K-5 online this spring!)

IMG_3014Portland Public School’s Test Kitchen for Higher Quality Food
Abernethy serves as the “test kitchen” for Portland Public Schools and has created many recipes and menu items that have moved into schools across the district. Interestingly, though average percentage of students buying hot lunch daily at Portland schools is about 30 percent, over time lunches from the Abernethy kitchen attract at least 60 percent of the school’s children.

School Chef Nicole Hoffman is working closely with Nutrition Services (NS) to create interesting recipes that still meet USDA standards with only $1.07 per meal to work with. Together Hoffmann and NS have focused on sourcing better staple ingredients to institutionalize wide-sweeping change: All wheat used is Portland Public Schools, for example, is grown sustainable and locally by Shepherds Grain flour. All chicken is raised locally and hormone-free by Draper Valley farm. Beans and grains are grown by farmers in the Willamette Valley. Yogurt is made in Eugene, Oregon. At this point Portland Public Schools are serving about 40% locally-sourced food.

IMG_2799Slowly but surely Abernethy’s students are even fans of the more “creative” dishes from the kitchen like chef Nicole’s chicken Panang curry, falafel with riata, hummus and pita, and garden-harvest veggie soup.

Accolades from Across the Nation:
Oregon Green School status
First Oregon Wellness Award
Kiwi Magazine Crusaders Award
Health Magazine 2008 Healthiest Schools Report
Subject of 2007 NPR story on school food (LINK TO
KPTV feature “Food Revolution” Link to
Oregon Live

Check out Chef Nicole and Abernethy’s School Kitchen Garden Program on Facebook or on the website: More information:

Written by Sarah Sullivan, Abernethy School Kitchen Garden Program Coordinator