Chef Andrew Smith of Atkins Park restaurant shows students from Springdale Park elementary how to prepare produce raised in the school's gardens. Credit:Jenna Mobley.

Our Town: Virginia HighlandsSchool-restaurant partnerships fosters farm-to-table appreciation

The Virginia-Highland neighborhood is decked out for Halloween with paper skeletons, faux spider webs and plenty of pumpkins, but for many kids who attend the local Springdale Park Elementary school, the scariest things bringing on goose bumps are - gasp! - vegetables from the school’s rooftop and in-ground gardens.

Produce that kids often find creepy - kale, sweet potatoes, collards, beans, spinach and peas - is growing on the school’s grounds on Ponce de Leon Avenue. But thanks to a partnership with the nearby Atkins Park restaurant, kids’ ideas about veggies are moving from yuck to yum.

“When the school opened down the street from us, we wanted to get involved with them,” said Andrew Smith, Atkins Park’s chef of 10 years. “When we found out they had these gardens, we came up with idea of doing cooking demos.”

Smith visits the school each month to show students how to turn vegetables into tasty dishes. A recent session showcased sweet potato biscuits.

“I showed them how to make the dough, and we ate some of the cooked ones I brought,” said Smith. “Then we went into the garden and dug up a bunch of sweet potatoes. I always try to use things they’ve harvested then [prepare] really simple things kids can do at home.”

Springdale parent Teresa Groshan puts the recipes on the “Schoolyard Sprouts” section of the school’s website so families can make their own Parmesan kale chips, okra fritters, sesame snap peas and spinach quesadillas.

“I’ve actually had kids and parents say, ‘We tried this, and it was really good!’ ”said Smith.

To get more kids on the tastes-good bandwagon, the school and Atkins Park are cosponsoring a Nov. 14 “garden to table” night when the restaurant’s menu will feature dishes created from fresh vegetables grown at the school.

“That week, the children will harvest the vegetables that will go to the restaurant where Chef Andrew will use them in different recipes,” said parent Karri Hobson-Pape, who has first- and third-graders at Springdale. “It’s part of a real garden-to-table experience: The kids see the vegetables being grown; see how they can be used in cooking demonstrations; then they can come with their families to taste them at the restaurant. Then they can try them at home.”

The garden and Smith’s recipes have also produced a parent’s dream, said Hobson-Pape.

“A lot of children don’t like vegetables, but he gets them to experience kale, radishes and different herbs,” she said. “And miraculously, they love them.”

Information about the garden-to-table dinner is available at Atkins Park, 794 N. Highland Ave., 404- 876-7249;

Each Saturday, we shine a spotlight on a local neighborhood, city or community. To suggest a place for us to visit, e-mail H.M. Cauley at or call 770- 744-3042.

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