By Donna Thornton/News Editor
In recent days, if you sit in on special needs class at Litchfield Middle School, you’re going to hear some Harry Potter references, from a student who wants to be called Draco Malfoy (for today, at least) to teacher Chip Rowan’s observance that Peeves must be interfering with the classroom’s computer display board.
The class has been reading the Harry Potter books, Rowan explained.
But one of the major learning experiences for the students is the operation of the Beautiful Rainbow Catering Company – a business that involves no wands or incantations.
Instead, it finds the students growing their own lettuce, so they can custom-make salads, topped with dressings they make themselves, and sell them to the growing number of customers who’ve discovered this business where learning is more important than earning.
The students also make muffins, cookies, cheese crackers and an assortment of other items for bake sales and catering jobs.
Rowan said it is his second year at Litchfield Middle School, and he began the garden with special needs students his first year.
“We’ve only been doing this, on this scale, this year,” Rowan said. “We started a Facebook page in May.” Since then, business has picked up, as more people became aware of the student catering service.
On the morning of Nov. 8, the eight students in Rowan’s class harvested lettuce – they grew Romaine and Butterhead lettuce this fall, as well as Arugula – and prepared salads to fill the orders that had been placed for that day. Later the purchasers, including Karly Beavers came by to pay for and pick up their salads.
Rowan uses the catering business model to teach student more than the science of growing things and cooking. After making salads, the students returned to the classroom and used calculators to tally up how many salads they made that day, and how much they earned by selling those salads at $6 each.
They also calculated how much they made for their work all week, and how much they would earn in the next week, when the class had a catering order to fill.
Beautiful Rainbow Catering is to earn $100 for preparing food for the Gadsden Toastmasters open house Nov. 14.
In preparation for that job, Rowan went over the list of foods the class will prepare: banana muffins, cheese crackers and lemon squares – all items the class has made before. The menu will include a couple of new items: pimento cheese toast and focaccia bread.
Rowan pulled up pictures of the new dishes from a web site to show the students, and talked about what they would be doing to make prepare them.
Students also talked about what they need to buy to make all the foods to fill their catering order, how much the items will cost and where they will find them in the grocery store.
Making food for the catering job found students juicing many lemons for lemonade and for the lemon juice needed to make lemon squares.
They also made their pimento cheese, and learned about kneading dough to make their focaccia bread.
Rowan said the students would cook all week to prepare the needed foods. In the course of the week they will be reinforcing the kind of lessons the catering company has taught then since Rowan began it.
Gardening and cooking are science-related lessons, in addition to giving students an opportunity to practice reading skills, following directions and working as a team.
The students are learning skills that any adult might need to learn to function in a work place, Rowan said, according to their abilities.
“I want people to see that special needs students can make upscale food,” Rowan said. “We don’t want to make something you could get out of a bag.”
For the recipes the students use, they use upscale ingredients, too, he said, and their foods priced accordingly. When they talked about their shopping list, the students planned for organic eggs, and for pimento cheese, they won’t be using mayonnaise, because the raw eggs in it can spoil.
“We’re not shy about charging,” Rowan said.
When they talked about their shopping list, the students planned for organic eggs, and for pimento cheese, they won’t be using mayonnaise, because the raw eggs in it can spoil. Rowan said their process for preparing food takes a little longer than it might take your average caterers.
The fall lettuce garden is almost exhausted, and students are thinking about their winter garden now.
When Rowan asked what they would do with the money they’ve made recently, one of the students pointed out “We have to buy plants for our garden.” This winter, they will grow cabbage, collard greens and kale.
The students plant three gardens –one in spring, fall and winter.
Rowan said he doesn’t know of anyone doing this kind of project with special needs students in the area.