Not Your Average Cafeteria: Farm-To-Table Mindset Cultivated at Sky Islands Public High School

This isn't a standard culinary class that starts with hours of chopping onions and cutting carrots into brunoise.

If you grew up in America’s public education system, cafeterias might make you shiver with flashbacks of burnt pizzas and burger patties cut with cherries as filler.

But what if you want beet gnocchi or chile rellenos instead? If you or your child is a high schooler interested in culinary arts, consider looking into the Blue Sky Cafe farm-to-kitchen program at Sky Islands Public High School.

This isn’t a standard culinary class that starts with hours of chopping onions and cutting carrots into brunoise; students gain experience in both growing the food and preparing it in the kitchen.

Students begin with urban horticulture with Michael Bagesse, where they propagate seedlings in a greenhouse, plant seasonal vegetables, install irrigation, and manage the onsite farm. Plants range from standard greens to indigenous plants such as I’itoi onions.

 

I'itoi onions in the garden at Sky Islands Public High School (Credit: Jackie Tran)

I’itoi onions in the garden at Sky Islands Public High School (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Plants aren’t the only focus on the farm; students also raise chickens in the chicken coop and collect eggs. Baby goats may also enter the fray soon.

Afterwards, the students cook the ingredients they’ve grown with chef Aidan Gould. Rather than practicing rote training with classical techniques, students learn techniques from several recipes a week. A couple of previous recipes include Beet Gnocchi and Chorizo-stuffed Chile Rellenos.

Furthermore, nutritious dishes that make the cut will be served to the school for lunch.

Chicken photo exhibition at Sky Islands Public High School (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Chicken photo exhibition at Sky Islands Public High School (Credit: Jackie Tran)

To help support the program, visit Blue Sky Cafe’s first pop-up dinner at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20.

Gould and students will prepare a three-course meal, which includes two wine pairings. The suggested donation is $100 per person and all proceeds directly benefit the Sky Islands farm-to-kitchen program.

Spring Pop-Up Dinner Menu

20mar6:00 pm9:00 pmSpring Pop-Up Dinnerwith optional wine pairings6:00 pm - 9:00 pm AZ Blue Sky Café

First Course
  • Slow-roasted Butternut Squash – with poached pear, lemon-infused goat cheese, roasted pepitas, and citrus balsamic reduction
Second Course
  • Maqui Berry Powder Dusted Duck Breast – with duck skin chicharron and grapefruit gastrique, served on red and gold beet sauce
Third Course
  • Deconstructed Tarta De Merengue – with grapefruit lavender custard, lime merengue, candied lime zest, and edible flowers

Sky Islands Public High School is located at 6000 E. 14th St. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit skyislands.org

Jackie is a food writer and photographer native to Tucson. He loves corgis and still thinks rickrolling is funny. If you'd like to stalk him, visit jackietran.com.

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