Sit down to a table at Bludorn Restaurant in Midtown, and you expect to see a few things: an airy dining room with high-end lighting, the wine wall with vintages from around the world, and artfully plated dishes with ingredients like maitake mushrooms, chermoula, and sea urchin.
But what you might not expect to see is a carrot—or Swiss chard or green beans or kale—planted, cultivated, and harvested by a third-grader just down the block.
So how do these vegetables make it from the hands of an elementary school student to the plate of a high-end restaurant with a Michelin pedigreed chef?
Just down Taft Street from Chef Aaron Bludorn’s flagship restaurant sits Gregory-Lincoln Education Center, and its school garden. Or, as Kellie Karavias calls it, the Cultivated Classroom.
“We teach kids how to cultivate their palates and their mind—and our school garden,” Karavias said. “We have 18 beautiful beds. We have a chicken coop, and we have an orchard.”
With nearly two decades with the school and the garden she helped create, Karavias has a passion for teaching kids about the importance of food. She believes that a highly urban district like HISD is especially suited to programs like this one.
“What we are teaching here is a peaceful place for kids to come in and disconnect,” she said. “We do unplug, we get them in touch with nature. They understand where their food comes from. They can make smart choices in the real world when they go to the grocery store.”
But as Karavias points out, the educational benefits extend far beyond just nutrition. She works with TEKS guidelines for culinary arts as well as incorporating curriculum from social studies, agriculture, math, and science.
“We integrate everywhere. We do social studies by planting tomatoes and tying that in with Thomas Jefferson. We do math, we do science,” Karavias said.
The garden comes from a partnership with Urban Harvest, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding organic gardening and sustainable practices throughout Houston. Working with a school is a natural fit for Urban Harvest and their goal to create generations of gardeners.
“We give the kids a chance to get their hands in the soil, to touch and feel and grow these foods,” Urban Harvest Garden Educator Sherry Cruse said. “They get really excited. I’ve seen children eat things like radishes that they normally wouldn’t eat, because they grew it and they take ownership.”
Jazmin Salinas, a fourth-grader at Gregory-Lincoln, even started a garden at home with “tomatoes, beans, other kinds of flowers, and lettuce,” all inspired by her time in the Cultivated Classroom.
“I got involved because I think it’s fun to be outside,” Salinas said. “I love gardening. Plus, it’s really fun to do with your family and friends.”
For most of the students, getting to work in the garden is often a highlight of the school day.
“One of my favorite things to do is come out and pick with my classmates,” Dakota Dale, an eighth-grader, said. “Ms. Karavias shows us and tells us how the food grows and what seasons they grow in.”
When asking what her favorite food from the garden is, and you might be surprised by the answer.
“A carrot,” she said as she rooted out a particularly large example from Bed 15. From there, she took it over to the outside sink, cleaned off the dirt from the just-picked vegetable, slipped down her mask, and took a bite as a smile crossed over her face.
“That’s what it’s about,” Karavias said. “A minute ago that carrot was in the ground, and now Dakota is getting to enjoy it. That’s why this garden is something special.”