LAURINBURG — The Bagpiper Restaurant at Scotland High School and staffed by students hoping to join the culinary field is partnering with local growers to source fresh fruits and vegetables raised in Scotland County.
The class will pick back up with local partnerships in the late summer fall when school reopens, according to Chef Sam Richardson.
As part of that effort, the restaurantis working with Noran Sanford of the GrowingChange project in Wagram to purchase hydroponically cultivated lettuce and other salad greens.
“We like to get as much fresh as we can. The agriculture teacher left and left us without produce, so we reached out to GrowingChange, and we’re getting this awesome lettuce,” Richardson said. “We want to get as much local fresh produce as we can from around the county. It’s also good for the kids to see what’s right here and where it comes from.”
The restaurant will buy the lettuce at the going rate for fresh greens at $22 a case for six pounds. The greens include arugula, leaf lettuce, spinach and baby bok choy − also known as Chinese cabbage.
The restaurant has also teamed up with local bee keepers to buy honey and Oxendine’s produce in Laurel Hill for vegetables. The students use the honey as sweetener for cookies and desserts and the vegetables as salads and other side dishes.
The partnerships are two fold in the way that they give back to the community’s economy, according to Richardson.
“The main thing we need to do as a county is support local farmers. It gets everybody to know what’s out there, and it gets local farmers and their families to support local restaurants,” Richardson said.
Richardson said that local support was something that the Bagpiper could use more of and he hopes the use of clean, locally sourced produce will help with that.
The students and leaders of GrowingChange have been experimenting with cultivating foods at the former Wagram prison camp. In recent months they put in raised vegetable beds for items that need soil to grow and worked with NCA&T College Greensboro to develop a hydroponic growing system for the salad greens they grew, according to Terrance Smith, one of the programs advisors.
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension awarded GrowingChange a grant to set up the system.
Hydroponic growing consists of trays or racks in which seeds or sprouts are planted in a seed germinating medium other than soil. The plants are then kept in a water and mineral solution which nourishes them through their roots systems without the requirement of typical soil or fertilizer.
“One advantage is that it’s completely clean. It has never touched the soil. It can go straight to the table with very little washing,” Sanford said.
Sanford hopes to be able to expand the hydroponic system to be almost completely self-sustaining by adding a reservoir that will serve as a fish tank which will help feed the plants. The system will play on the symbiotic relationship between plants and aquatic animals.
“It will be an aquaponics system. We combine raising fish with the greens. The fish will provide fertilizer for the plants and the plants will filter the water for the fish,” Sanford said.
The system will start by raising talapia. The focus will be on raising the vegetables rather than the fish although the fish will be consumable.
The greens grown in the systems can be harvested once every six weeks. The plants can also be harvested with roots intact and kept in chilled, distilled water if they are not being used right away.
“If you get the root they will keep for longer,” Sanford said.
He and the youth at GrowingChange and the Scotland Grows project hope that their efforts will spread the word about the benefits of locally grown fresh foods over other options.
“We’re going to take some of the spinach to blend into smoothies to help educate the county especially young people about healthy, tasty ways to eat local greens,” Sanford said. “We’re working with Scotland Grows to be able to connect good healthy local food to local tables.”
The Bagpiper Restaurant is located on the campus of Scotland High School at 1000 West Church Street and is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8:15 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. for breakfast and lunch. For information, call 910-276-1540.
GrowingChange is located in the decommissioned Wagram prison on US 401 North in Wagram. Visit, growingchange.org to find out more.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169