Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden: Where Culinary Arts & Gardening Intersect
By Nicki, Youth Programs Developer, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Michelle Zhu is a long-time participant in the Youth Volunteer Summer Program, a volunteer opportunity for youth (ages 13-18). Participants in this program work a variety of areas including the Community Kitchen Garden, which harvests food for FeedMore’s Community Kitchen. Michelle participates every summer and comes every day, except when she is in Rock Camp (she’s also a totally rad drummer).
Another one of Michelle’s interest is culinary arts. Often, participants in the Youth Volunteer programs get to take home herbs and vegetables as part of the educational experience and Michelle always puts her take-homes to good use. From carrots she made a roasted baby carrot dish with a mustard sauce and she made a root vegetable roast with the beets. With parsley she created pan fried fish with parsely.
Her Chinese heritage makes for interesting conversation when discussing edibles. She explains how Western weeds and ornamentals are often incorporated into Chinese cuisine.
“We do use/grow a lot of good greens like luffa or winter melon (a type of gourd). In addition to that, we find a lot of usage in particular weeds, like dandelions, and some others, so a lot of the more aesthetic plants at the Garden are incorporated more purposefully in our cuisine. It’s all part of Chinese medicine… that we find these unconventional herbs and vegetables to use in our dishes.”
Some of Michelle’s new favorite edibles she learned about and harvested while participating in the Youth Volunteer Summer Program, include okra, cherry tomatoes, parsley, and zucchini. Because of Michelle’s interest in the culinary arts and her advanced participation, I often asked Michelle to harvest the herbs and vegetables we grow in the Garden Cafe’ plot and deliver them to the Garden Café. Michelle mastered harvesting purple basil and parsley, are some of the main ingredients in the Café’s pesto. One of Michelle’s favorite educational components is Food Demo Day when all of the Youth Volunter participants get to make pesto with the Master Chef in the Garden Café’s kitchen.