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|| Ashwood Waldorf Education: A Reverence for Food
Waldorf schools, which number over 900 worldwide and are the fastest growing independent, nondenominational educational movement in the world, seek “to see the whole in every part, to engage the head, the hands, and the heart,” according to the Web site of the Rockport, Maine, Ashwood Waldorf School (ashwoodwaldorf.org). Founded in Germany in 1919 by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf schools arose from the widespread search for new values after World War I.
Those values include creative thinking, a reverence for life and a strong sense of personal responsibility – and they extend to the food that nourishes the students and staff at Ashwood. Educational subjects “must be alive and speak to the child's experience. To truly educate a child, the heart and will must be reached as well as the mind,” according to the Ashwood philosophy. Incorporating food – growing, preparing and eating – in the curriculum from the earliest ages is one way that students’ heads, hands and hearts become engaged.
|Kindergarteners at the Ashwood Waldorf School in Rockport, Maine, prepare, enjoy and even grow food together. Photo by Doug Mott.
A Visit to Kindergarten
In December, I visited the Ashwood Waldorf School in Rockport, one of four Waldorf schools in Maine, to learn how food is incorporated into the curriculum. This school, which blossoms on 32 acres of fields and woods overlooking the Camden Hills, has 150 students in its preschool parent/child programs, mixed-age kindergartens and first through eighth grades.
Ashwood’s enrollment and marketing director Maria Northcott invited me to the school. Her enthusiasm for farming and for hands-on, heartfelt education is ingrained: She is the daughter of Samuel Kaymen, who founded Stonyfield Yogurt in New Hampshire in 1983 and who now, in his Maine “retirement” years, is vice chairman of EARTH University Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia (EARTH: An International University dedicated to education in the agricultural sciences and natural resources, contributing to the sustainable development of the humid tropics) and is on the boards of the School of Community Economic Development at Southern N.H. University in Manchester, N.H.; of the Mid-Coast Green Collaborative in Damariscotta, Maine; and of Sustainable Harvest International in Surrey, Maine. Kaymen also founded NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Assoc.) in Westminster, Vt., in 1971. Northcott herself went to Waldorf schools in New Hampshire and grew up on a farm.
Northcott introduced the Ashwood kindergarten co-teachers, Sarah Baldwin and Terri Hallowell. Hallowell was unable to stay for our discussion, but Baldwin, a former actor with rich experience in drama in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere, explained that she discovered Waldorf education when her son was little. She was exploring school options for him and, simultaneously, had been thinking about a career change for herself, when she “set foot in a Waldorf school and thought, this is the right environment for children!” Then she quickly thought, “but I want to come here every day.”
She learned about and enrolled in the part-time Waldorf teacher training that met weekends and summers in Los Angeles. “For some people,” she explains, a Waldorf school “just feels like home. It’s very healing for those who haven’t had an idealistic childhood. It gives parents ideas about how to bring more order into their home and about nutritious foods they can provide. Something as simple as lighting a candle before a meal – bringing that kind of reverence to the table. Parents feel gratitude for something that simple that they hadn’t thought to do before.”
Toki Oshima, who teaches three- and four-year-olds at Ashwood’s nursery school, joined our discussion. Readers of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener have known Oshima for many years through her cover art for each issue and for her whimsical illustrations throughout the paper. She is also a vendor at the Common Ground Country Fair.
|Toki Oshima (left) teaches nursery school at Ashwood (and provides the cover art and illustrations for The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener); former actor Sarah Baldwin (center) is one of two kindergarten teachers; and Maria Northcott is enrollment and marketing director – and a huge fan of organic foods. English photo.
Snack and Lunch, Day by Day
Oshima and Baldwin explain that for the past year they’ve served not just a hearty snack early in the morning, but a lunch as well, in the nursery and kindergarten. (Students in grades one through eight bring their own healthful snacks and lunches, since those classrooms lack kitchens, but they are still deeply involved in food and agriculture. When the kindergarten kitchen is available, older students will make lasagna, apple tarts, latkes… “There’s a lot of food around here,” says Oshima.)
Food is such an important part of this early education that the children know the days of the week by the food of the day – rice day, soup day, bread day, millet day, porridge day – rather than the less meaningful “Monday, Tuesday…” “For a young child, the names of the days are so abstract,” says Baldwin, “but they understand the rhythm of the day from the food, and learn to think sequentially that way. If they ask, ‘What day is today?’ I can ask, ‘What day was yesterday?’ to help them figure it out.” Or they can use their observation skills when they see ingredients for bread set out, for instance, and make their own conclusions about what day it is.
On soup day (“Tuesdays”), each student brings in a vegetable. “We call it stone soup,” says Baldwin. As in the story, “they start with nothing, and everybody adds something to the pot. By the end you have this big, hearty soup. They take a lot of pride in bringing in a carrot, or a potato or a beet to add to the soup. They all chop, using crinkle cutters,” which not only are safe for young hands to use, but also make the soup look delightful.
Baldwin’s son still remembers soup day from his Waldorf kindergarten, and once listed “soup making” on a questionnaire asking about his favorite hobbies.
Bread day is really two days. Students grind wheat into flour and start the bread sponge one day, and the next day they each take a turn kneading. Thus, “they learn where food comes from,” says Baldwin. “Bread comes from flour that comes from wheat that grows in the sun.” These connections are celebrated at circle time, too, as students sing songs through the seasons about planting, harvesting and threshing wheat.
“When we make bread,” Oshima adds, “we take a loaf to the other grades, with a stick of butter. They really enjoy having that connection.”
Oshima has “parent breakfasts” once a month in her nursery class, serving oatmeal with maple syrup and cream. “It’s like the most delicious dessert you can ever imagine,” she says, and sharing food helps parents, children and staff connect with one another.
Sometimes kindergarteners churn their own butter – making more connections between themselves and the natural farming world. Baldwin tells about one Waldorf student who asked where the yellow color in butter comes from, and, after thinking about it himself and considering what he’d learned about color theory from art projects at the school, he realized that it must come from the green grass that cows eat in summer. (In fact, carotenes in grass do give butter a yellow color.)
The children carry these skills into other parts of their lives. “We know from our own experience that they will actually eat soup at home,” says Oshima. “If they have that direct involvement [with food and food preparation], they’re more apt to try it.”
Northcott notes that the children learn a lot of their math and science through food preparation. Baldwin expands: “They’re counting, measuring. When we make bread, I tell them to beat it for 100 beats. When we add yeast, it bubbles up. That will come back later when they’re learning about fungi and yeast [in fifth-grade botany].”
The food served at Ashwood is vegetarian, out of respect for families in the community who don’t eat meat. “We make something everyone can eat, and it’s healthy,” says Oshima, although she believes that “a lot of families now are embracing Nourishing Traditions and the Weston A. Price philosophy, including soaking grains.” Baldwin notes that they soak all their grains the night before they’re cooked (to increase digestibility). Eggs and dairy products are used in various foods in the school.
“We ask for organic if possible when families are donating food to the class,” Baldwin continues. “I feel pretty strongly about organic dairy, because so much pesticide ends up in animal fat. Anything we buy is organic. We buy a lot in bulk,” including flour and grains from Fiddler’s Green and the Good Tern Co-op, and dairy products from the Co-op. “We have a monthly list of what we need. Parents will bring in one item from the list. The children take a lot of pride in bringing in food for the lunch.”
In addition to the nursery and kindergarten programs, the school holds a parent/child program for children ages 18 months to three years, and their parents, one day a week for 2 1/2 hours. “They bake bread, make biscuits, soup, applesauce,” says Oshima. “It’s similar in rhythm to our nursery school and kindergarten.”
The nursery school and kindergarteners have their our own garden beds outside their classrooms where they grow such crops as herbs for tea (lemon balm, thyme, calendula, clover, elderberry flowers, oat straw, raspberry leaves, and others) and garlic for soup flavoring. Each morning, a child prepares the tea in a clear pot, to accompany the snack. Children enjoy seeing the dried flowers and leaves unfold as hot water is poured into the pot. In the spring, students pick chives to sprinkle on their freshly baked, buttered bread.
The kindergarteners also have a compost pile, from which the third graders draw when tending their garden. Third graders, explains Oshima, have a special educational block about farming and gardening. They visit farms and plant a vegetable garden at Ashwood. New third graders will harvest this garden the following fall and will later prepare and sow beds for the following class.
The Ashwood School has a close connection with Tom Griffin and his Hope’s Edge Farm, a CSA farm in Hope, Maine. Not only is Griffin a substitute teacher at Ashwood, but he also provides the school with beans to shell – “a wonderful fine motor activity for young hands,” says Baldwin. The beans also offer artistic inspiration: “Having this grey, crinkled up, dead-looking thing, and then opening it up to find these ‘jewels’ inside,” says Oshima – “they sort of sparkle in there.” The school keeps some beans for soups and bean dip, and the rest go back to Griffin, who has also donated watermelons and other produce left over from his harvests. Many Ashwood families belong to his CSA and take their kids there in the summer.
Once a few varieties of Griffin’s beans are shelled, the kindergartners enjoy sorting them. “In a traditional preschool,” says Baldwin, “they’d be sorting plastic blocks of different color; but we’re sorting beans, which is real work for real purpose – to provide our meals – not just sorting plastic blocks for the activity of sorting.” Whatever tools students use – grater, egg beater – are used for their real purpose, also. “We’re always conscious of not just business [busy-ness] for business’ sake, but real work for real purpose,” says Baldwin, “and so much of it is connected with our food and meals.”
Food, farms and fun mix throughout the seasons, with visits to orchards to pick apples in the fall – sometimes pressing them into cider or processing them into sauce at the school; to dairies to watch milking; to vegetable farms to dig potatoes; and so on. October brings a Halloween Walk at nearby Merryspring Nature Center – a walk through the woods at dusk with enchanted characters, such as dragons, knights and fairies – and free cider. The walk, which is open to the community and attracts up to 500 people, offers younger children a less scary alternative to Halloween and an alternative to trick or treat candy.
As winter wanes, students tap maple trees. One third-grade class built a sugaring shack, where current third graders do serious sugaring. The kindergarten collects sap and processes small batches, celebrating the process through stories about sugaring during circle time.
Building the Farm
Asked how they’d like to expand the farm and food connections, Oshima says, “We’d love to have animals here – chickens, sheep. We would love to have a hen house and gather our own eggs (as the Waldorf kindergarten in Lincolnville does). Our third grade every year has a building project. I hope one day they’ll build a hen house for us.”
They use about a dozen eggs a week and would need only a few hens, but arrangements would be needed for their care on weekends and vacations – which leads Oshima to the bigger dream of having a farm at the school, with a small cabin and a caretaker.
In addition to dreams of a hen house, an outdoor bread oven is under construction and is almost done – just one more way in which heads, hands and heart will nourish and be nourished.
– J E
Recipes from Ashwood Waldorf School’s Kindergarten Class
Blessing before lunch:
Blessings on the blossoms
Blessings on the roots
Blessings on the leaves and stems
Blessings on the fruit
Blessings on our meal and on everyone here and dear!
At the end of the meal, as the class holds hands around the table:
We are making a golden crown
We are making a golden crown
Thank you, thank you, thank you for our food!
MONDAY – Soft and Savory Rice with Beans
3 cups organic short grain brown rice
1/2 cup small, white navy beans
9 cups water
1/2 tsp. + 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 stick butter
The night before:
Rinse beans well and soak overnight in enough water to cover them.
Rinse rice well and soak overnight in a large, heavy pot with 9 cups of water and 1/2 tsp. salt added.
The next day:
Drain the beans and cover with fresh water. Add 1/2 tsp. salt.
Gently boil the beans in a small, separate pan until well cooked and soft.
Add butter to the pot of rice, and bring the water to a boil in large heavy pot (using the same water the rice was soaked in). Once rice is boiling vigorously, turn the heat down to simmer, and cover the pot.
Simmer for about 45 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. (Rice should be soft and sticky like porridge. You may have to add water at the end until the rice achieves this consistency.)
Drain the beans and add them to the rice. Stir well. Let the mix sit with the cover on. Serve with tamari (soy sauce) and gomasio (ground, roasted sesame seeds).
TUESDAY – Stone Soup
The night before:
Wash and soak 1 cup of rice (or barley) and 1/4 cup red lentils
The next day:
Sauté in a large stock pot with 2 Tbsp. butter and 3 Tbsp. olive oil:
1 clean stone
4 cloves crushed garlic
Fresh leeks, or 2 large onions, finely chopped
Fill the pot halfway with boiling water.
Add 4 cubes of vegetable bouillon (we use Rapunzel brand), and the drained rice and lentils. Bring to a boil and then let simmer.
Add chopped vegetables: carrots, potatoes, squash, spinach, celery, turnips, parsnips, broccoli, etc. (whatever you have on hand). Beets and kale are nice to add for color.
After all vegetables are added, fill the pot with more boiling water.
Optional: Add 1 can of coconut milk.
Simmer for an hour. Add tamari (soy sauce) to taste.
The person who finds the stone in his/her bowl makes a wish, then passes the magic stone around the table for everyone to wish upon.
WEDNESDAY – Kindergarten Bread
The night before:
Mix a teaspoon of honey in a cup of lukewarm (not hot) water. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tsp. yeast on top. Allow the yeast to float on the surface of water – do not stir! Set this in a warm place until foamy (15-30 minutes).
Put 5 cups of warm water in a large mixing bowl. The water should not be too hot: Make sure you can hold your finger comfortably in the water while you count to ten. Add 1 1/2 tsp. salt and a large wooden spoonful of honey. Mix well. Add the yeast mixture and stir again.
Stir in enough flour (half whole wheat and half white bread flour) to make a bread “sponge” the consistency of thick mud. Beat with a wooden spoon 100 strokes. Cover with a damp towel, and let the sponge sit overnight.
The next day:
Stir in approximately 3-4 more cups of flour (half whole wheat half white bread flour) until the dough is kneading consistency and comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Knead on a well-floured board or table, using more flour as needed, for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Shape into rolls. Place on an oiled cookie sheet and allow to rise in an oven set to “Warm” for 10-15 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Raise oven temperature to 350 and bake for approximately 1 hour until the rolls are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.
“Secret ingredients” may include cinnamon, raisins, leftover millet or oats, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds.
Serve with tea, honey-butter, cheese and fruit.
THURSDAY – Savory Millet
The night before:
Rinse well 3 cups of organic millet. Soak the millet overnight in 9 cups of water with 1 1/2 tsp. salt.
The next day:
Drain the millet and dry roast it on high heat (watch it very closely) until it smells nutty.
Add 9 cups of fresh water (or 3 parts water to 1 part millet).
Bring to a boil and then simmer until all the water is absorbed (adding more water if necessary to desired consistency).
Add 2 cubes of vegetable bouillon and approximately 1/2 cup tahini. Serve hot. A side of steamed or raw carrots and a drink of water or herbal tea sweetened with honey round out the meal.
FRIDAY – Oatmeal Porridge
The night before:
Soak 2 cups organic rolled oats in 8 cups of water with 1/2 tsp salt.
The next day:
Add 4 Tbs. Butter (optional)
Bring to a boil and then simmer until creamy (one hour or longer).
The porridge will thicken to a pudding-like consistency if left to sit and cool for 20-30 minutes.
Serve with honey or maple syrup, cream, raisins, apples and/or sunflower seeds.
Delicious Kindergarten Birthday Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter and flour a tubular baking pan.
Combine and sift in one bowl:
3 3/4 cups cake or all-purpose flour 2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
a pinch of salt
Beat together in a separate bowl with a rotary egg beater:
4 eggs, beaten till foamy
2 cups water or milk
Beat together in a third bowl with rotary egg beater:
1 cup softened butter
1 cup maple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Add dry ingredients to butter, vanilla and syrup mixture, alternating with the egg and water mixture.
Beat until smooth.
Pour into greased and floured cake pan.
Bake 35-45 minutes, or until center of cake springs back when touched.
Serve with whipped cream and strawberries or applesauce.
Fresh flowers may be placed in center of cake.