PAA Serves Farm-to-Table Lunches

October 08, 2017 | Liesl Vistaunet

It’s the first day of school at Portland Adventist Academy (PAA) in Portland, Ore. Students are lined up for lunch and their pick of vegan or cheese lasagna, both stuffed with spinach, carrots, zucchini and onions with roasted broccoli on the side. At the end of the line they find a bowl of fresh fruit and a colorful salad bar. Salad greens harvested from PAA’s gardens are ready to be topped with fresh veggies, beans, nuts, hummus and more.

Behind this meal is Stephanie Torgerson, PAA’s food service director and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of American. Torgerson helped successfully launch a farm-to-table model in public schools, and she came to PAA a year ago with the same mission.

“Healthy eating is part of our heritage,” says Torgerson. “With urban farms cropping up all over our city, and vegan and vegetarian lifestyles trending, why shouldn’t we be leaders in this movement?”

Torgerson serves vegan choices and skips processed foods. “Teenagers are far more adventurous than we give them credit for,” she says.

“I’m definitely in favor of the healthy food,” says Ben Krueger-Blehm, a PAA junior. “Chef Stef is very creative and good at making food that wouldn’t normally appear in a school lunch.”

Thanks to “Chef Stef,” PAA now has thriving blueberry bushes, an herb garden and six garden beds filled with food destined for the salad bar.

And produce isn’t the only thing growing. Teams of volunteers came for work parties to build garden beds and compost bins and to prepare the soil. Students volunteer to weed, water and harvest.

Torgerson’s visions include a greenhouse where Bible teachers can teach firsthand lessons on reaping and harvesting. She wants to open the kitchen for culinary and agriculture classes as well as guest chefs. Someday she hopes to sell the school’s produce at the local farmer’s market and to introduce neighbors to the school’s unique educational benefits. Greater yet, she dreams of seeing this modeled throughout Adventist schools.

“I could talk for hours about the importance of this and my passion for it,” says Torgerson. “What a wonderful chance this gives us to witness to our community.”

“I’ve come to realize that Chef Stef isn’t merely providing healthy meals,” says PAA teacher Mark Smith. “For her, this is a mission focused not just on its health benefits but on connecting others to a healing ministry — one of the very foundations of our church.”

Read more on the PAA website.