September Toolshed: Tips for Garden Leaders

Dalimaya as the head chef in the outdoor kitchen

Cooking in the garden is a great way to celebrate an abundant harvest, bring people together, and share food traditions and culture. Dalimaya (center) hosts a Nepalese cooking lesson and meal for nearly 100 gardeners and family members at the VNA Family Room Garden. The intergenerational and multicultural event was a partnership of the Family Room, VCGN, and HANDS (Helping And Nurturing Diverse Seniors).

Cooking in the Garden

As the growing season winds down, how you will celebrate the work and harvest from this year’s garden? Whatever you do, don’t forget the food!   Whether you celebrate with an end-of-season potluck, a cook-out, or another sort of harvest feast, food brings people together and eating together is a joyful act – especially when you’re enjoying the fruits of your own labor. This month’s tip focuses on cooking IN the garden! While the weather is still prime for outdoor celebrations and things are still ripening in the garden, consider putting on an in-the-garden feast. Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. All you need… You can cook without a kitchen. A two-burner camp stove, folding tables, and shade cloth will do just great for outdoor cooking.
  2. Keep it simple. To simplify cooking in the garden, prepare some ingredients ahead at home, such as cooking rice, soaking beans, and washing vegetables.
  3. Put the harvest in “harvest party.” Plan your harvest party early enough that you can still use harvest from your garden. This can be a full garden feast or simply throwing garden chives and nasturtiums into your salad.
  4. “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” Designate one lead cook. Your cook could be a local chef who wants to volunteer her/his time, a gardener with special cuisine to share, or the role could rotate among gardeners from season to season.
  5. Food prep-Mustard greens for Nepalese dish

    “Many hands make light work.” Your cook will need plenty of help with prepping ingredients and supplies, chopping vegetables, setup, serving, and cleanup. Consider splitting these tasks into volunteer crews, so that each group takes responsibility for their work and no one is spread too thin.

  6. Make it festive! Decorate the space with flowers, flags, lights, tablecloths, and other things that add to a festive atmosphere. All of these things can be put together on a shoestring budget—i.e. flowers from the garden, flags and table cloths made from sheets and decorated by kids in the garden, everyone brings their own eating ware.
  7. Recognize opportunities for learning. Incorporate some educational component – i.e. cooking demos with step by step instructions, stories or fun facts about the ingredients or the recipe, visual guides such as a globe to show what part of the world recipe comes from. Consider also inviting people from outside of your garden community—a celebration like this can be a great opportunity for your garden community to share a little of what you’re all about.
  8. Give thanks. Whether people are eating at different times or everyone is able to sit down together to eat, take a moment to give thanks for the food and those who grew and prepared it.
  9. Keep it clean. Set-up a separate cleanup station with hot water, dish soap, and drying rack to take care of messes during cooking and for final dish washing.
  10. Take it with you. Send feast-goers home with recipe cards, so that they make the dish at home. (And bring a stack of plastic containers so people can take leftovers home.)

Washing vegetables before food prep time

Thank you to Carolina Lukac, VCGN’s Garden Education Specialist, who contributed to this month’s Toolshed Tips based on her experience with multi-cultural cooking celebrations in Burlington, Vermont.