Okra is one of the few crops that really thrive in Florida summer heat, and we wanted to give it a try this year to see how it worked in the lunchroom. Several experienced school gardens planted okra as soon as they returned in August, and we worked with Long & Scott Farm in Mt. Dora to plan a purchase. Chef Kristen, our school chef, created a roasted okra recipe that would be simple for school kitchens to prepare and yummy for students to try.
Okra traveled to the Americas on the same ships that brought enslaved Africans. The Africans introduced the southern U.S. to this tasty, filling crop that grew in the hot summer. One of the most famous dishes that feature the ingredient, gumbo, was likely named after a West African word for okra: “ki ngumbo.”
One of the reasons we wanted to serve okra is because farms here grow it, and we want to expand our local purchases. At the same time, we want to connect the food students see on their lunch trays to the cultures and locations they came from. Through signage at the Farm to School Hub and nutrition education in the schools, we hope to expand student palates while helping them understand the many different locations and cultural traditions associated with their food. This is just the beginning of a larger project that will help students and visitors visiting the hub make the connection between geography and food. We are excited about it.
We were proud to feature this delicious African staple in our school lunches this year and look forward to continuing to promote it to our students.