SFA students Mallory Jurena and Hollin Jordan prepared a mozzarella pesto bruschetta with ingredients from Appleby Community Farm in Nacogdoches.

Pictured, from left, are Stephen F. Austin State University freshman Mallory Jurena, who is majoring in hospitality administration with a focus in restaurant management, and freshman food, nutrition and dietetics major Hollin Jordan prepared a mozzarella pesto bruschetta with ingredients from Appleby Community Farm in Nacogdoches. This meal was part of a new farm-to-table lab created by Dr. Mary Olle, human sciences professor at SFA.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Dr. Mary Olle, human sciences professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, has created a new experiential learning farm-to-table lab for students majoring in hospitality and food, dietetics and nutrition. Recently, dozens of students from two of Olle's production meal management courses visited Appleby Community Farm for a tour of the property, and to gain insight into managing and marketing a local organic community garden.

This lab took place during a two-week period as the students visited the farm and then prepared meals based on the fresh produce at Appleby Community Farm. During the first week of the lab, farm owner and farmer Bryan Pruett walked the students around the grounds while pointing out different crops and describing farming techniques.

Pruett and his wife Cindy opened the farm in 2009. Pruett said they currently have three-and-a-half acres under cultivation but will expand as needed.

Students toured Pruett's citrus greenhouse, where he grows a variety of produce including lemon trees. Also, students viewed the starter greenhouse and other sections of the farm where the Pruetts grow varieties of peppers, tomatoes, peaches, collard greens, flowers, and more.

The lab required students to create a meal under a specific budget and to use ingredients grown at Appleby Community Farm. Students built their recipes around produce available at the farm and returned to reap the harvest last week.

"Farm-to-table is not just a trend anymore, it's mainstream," Olle said. "This lab is a great opportunity for our students to see home-grown production since many of our students have never experienced farm life."

Students worked in groups and some were tasked with cooking an appetizer, while others created entrees and side dishes. SFA faculty and staff members were invited to sample the meal.

Students prepared dishes such as mozzarella pesto bruschetta, arugula salad, strawberry basil bruschetta, stuffed eggplant, grilled rainbow peppers with herb cream cheese, baked eggplant with penne pasta, Santa Fe skillet, potato gratin with chives, and bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers.

"This lab was a great addition to the curriculum, and it showed the students a different side to meal preparation," Olle said.

Olle was pleased with the lab results and is looking forward to future semesters.

"The experience connected student learning with the community and industry. It also allowed the students to demonstrate their creativity by incorporating the fresh produce into the recipes they prepared," Olle said. "This was the first time for this class to actually utilize the farm-to-table concept, and I hope to continue in the future."