Students making a difference in Ahwatukee
By Jean Reed
Tucked away in the quiet Phoenix village of Ahwatukee Foothills is a small café making big changes for the community.
Using the freshest ingredients and an abundance of skill and creativity, students at Desert Garden Montessori are serving delicious and nutritious meals not only to those on campus, but to everyone in the Ahwatukee and Chandler areas, as well.
“The café was founded in the name of wellness for our kids and for our entire community,” says Shetal Walters, Desert Garden Montessori founder and executive director.
The Garden Café, located at 5130 E. Warner Road, Phoenix, AZ 85044, has been open for a few years, but this is the first year it has truly found its stride and come to life for the community. Now, not a day goes by where you will not see patrons gathered on The Garden Café’s patio, enjoying the delectable cafe creations and company of one another. The café has become the place to be, not only for students and their families, but also for members of the community at large. Each week, the café hosts “First Responder Mondays,” where law enforcement, firefighters and EMS personnel are all welcome to stop in for free coffee.
A Unique Menu
The Garden Café uses its menu as an opportunity to embody a socially just food system and to promote community food security by supporting small-scale, local farms and partnerships. The students strive to incorporate as much local organic produce and ingredients into their menus as possible. In speaking with the students who work at the café, you will discover they are passionate about partnering only with local companies that share similar core values as theirs. The students serve cold brew coffee on tap from Press Coffee Roasters, fresh-baked sourdough bread from Proof Bakery, and vegan treats from Pomegranate Café.
The café offers a variety of nutritious menu items to support their mission of wellness, and to demonstrate to the community that wellness can absolutely equate to deliciousness.
On a hot summer’s day, the students serve froyo sundaes topped with gluten-free cookie dough, acai bowls with homemade granola and fresh berries, and fresh-squeezed watermelon limeade slushies.
Now that fall is upon us, their seasonal menu features pumpkin chip bubble waffles, pesto-grilled cheese sandwiches (made from scratch with pumpkin seeds and basil they grow in their own garden), and a customizable “grab and go” bistro box filled with healthy protein options, apple slices and sunflower butter, organic cheese, and whole grain crackers.
From Seed to Fork
This year, the café is taking a step… backward. They are taking their menu all the way back to the seed.
Students from The Garden Café have begun planning how to utilize the school’s on-campus, solar-powered greenhouse for growing and harvesting some of their very own ingredients to use in the cafe. The students have met with local, organic farmers for ideas, mentorship and strategic planning to make their ideas become reality.
Cafe Goes Mobile
In October, the students in the café launched their newest cafe initiative, a mobile ordering system. By integrating a mobile ordering system at the café, the students are excited to improve their order fulfillment efficiency as well as expand their menu options. With the launch of the mobile system, the students will be offering a smoothie subscription program as well as a breakfast of the month club.
Much like the Montessori campus where it resides, The Garden Café is focused on organic, wholesome living and education for life. Middle Years and High School students from Desert Garden Montessori run and manage the café. The students are responsible for everything from inventory and budget management to recipe creation and marketing for the café. While it is optional for students to work at the café, each student must complete an application and interview process to be accepted into a position.
The Garden Café is adorned with beautiful, hand-painted décor from the students, one of them being a mission statement developed by the students themselves. It reads, “Our mission is to connect with our local, edible community and to develop social entrepreneurship skills with a holistic nutritional foundation. Through experimental learning, we strengthen our relationship with the living world around us – our food, our bodies, our earth, and our community.”
Kindness is also part of the mission at the café. When you stop for your morning brew, you will find a small stack of “Kindness Cards” on the pick-up counter. The students encourage you to take one and pass it on. Each morning, they decorate recyclable coffee cups with colorful drawings and inspirational words for their customers.
In chatting with a student as she decorated the café’s bulletin board with positive quotes, the student said it best, “I want to change someone’s day who might need it. You never know who might stop to read this board. If what I do here changes someone’s day who needs it, just one person, that would mean everything.”
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Jean Reed is the director of community outreach at Desert Garden Montessori.
Photos by Jean Reed