A farm-to-table meal at Penn, in photos

Honoring Earth Week, Penn Dining and the Penn Food and Wellness Collaborative teamed up to create a vegetable-forward menu for Quaker Kitchen, sourcing produce from local purveyors to highlight what’s currently growing on the quarter-acre Penn Park Farm.

The arms of two people over an industrial-sized kitchen warmer, which holds a pot of green puree, two pans of pasta, a cast iron skillet of mushrooms, another cast iron skillet of fish with a spatula on top, and a bowl of multi-colored carrots. A stack of bowls sits off to the left of the image.
On a given night Quaker Kitchen serves as many as 200 meals like the Earth Week meal, which included pea puree, pasta carbonara, mushrooms, carrots, and sustainably sourced salmon. “The big message is, if you’re interested in climate change, the choice you make at your dinner table has a big impact,” says Barbara Lea-Kruger, director of communications and external relations for Penn’s Division of Business Services.

At 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, the buzz in Quaker Kitchen in Penn’s New College House West is palpable as the team preps for the nearing dinner rush. Music plays in the background as a blender blends, pots clank. Sous chef Kwazi Hlela prepares the pea puree that will accompany the main dish, a locally sourced salmon and green leafy tatsoi, while others roast maitake mushrooms and whip cream, toss spaghetti, and chop raw bacon.

Though such a lead up to dinner isn’t unique for this kitchen, this week’s meal is. It’s a collaboration between Quaker Kitchen Chef Daniel Stern and the team at the Penn Park Farm in honor of Earth Week. It features a plant-forward feast sourced from local purveyors that is based on the produce growing at the farm.

“We don’t always talk about food and its impact on climate change and sustainability,” says Lila Bhide, founder of the Penn Food and Wellness Collaborative, which includes the quarter-acre farm. “Everyone has to eat. It’s important that we learn how to leverage food to fight climate change as opposed to it being something that contributes to the problem.”

That’s something Stern has been doing through what Penn Dining calls Q’ulinary Sessions. Quaker Kitchen is open Monday through Thursday for dinner. On Fridays, it often turns into a classroom, offering Penn students a chance to learn basic cooking skills. Ahead of Earth Week, Stern and his team worked with the Penn Park Farm to design a menu, then provided a cooking lesson to a select group on April 15. That meal became this week’s menu for Quaker Kitchen diners.

Stern says part of the goal of those sessions generally and of the Earth Week collaboration specifically is to highlight the principle that the food choices people make affect the environment. It’s a guiding philosophy for him as he cooks and for Penn Dining overall.

“This is not a once-a-year-occasion,” says Stern, who before coming to Penn was chef-owner of R2L in Philadelphia. “My goal is for Quaker Kitchen to operate like this year-round, to raise awareness about food waste and food access.” Eating to benefit the planet has another advantage too, he says: It’s delicious.

A close-up photo of the vegetable tatsoi. Blurred beneath it are soil, a hose, and a cover.
The food grown on the Penn Park Farm, like the tatsoi seen here, contributes to the Student Good Food Bag program, part of the Netter Center’s Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative. In the summer, the plot can generate as much as 100 pounds of produce per day, which gets hand-picked by Bhide and her team.


Left, a person standing in a greenhouse on Penn’s campus. Right: Vegetables growing in a greenhouse.
After Emylee Fleshman (left) graduated from Penn in 2021, she began working full time at the farm. In mid-April, she showed off many vegetables starting to pop, including spinach, lettuce greens, snow peas, snap peas, and garlic planted last October. She and Bhide had recently harvested carrots overwintered from last season.


A person carrying a tray of mushrooms through a door. The person is holding the tray on their head.
The Quaker Kitchen Earth Week meal included roasted maitake mushrooms (on the left, next to portobello mushrooms) as one entrée option, to be accompanied by peas and pasta. In addition to Stern and Hlela, the kitchen team includes folks from Bon Appetit and Penn Dining Services.


Left: Gloved hands holding a casserole dish of roasted carrots. Right: A chef in a kitchen pours batter into a container.
According to sous chef Hlela (right), for Wednesday night’s meal they prepared about 25 pounds of carrots, 50 pounds of salmon, five cases of greens, and much more. Here he’s making a cauliflower puree, the first step of several to ready the sauce for the salmon.


Two people sitting outside at a table eating food, with a person inside blurred in the background.
Second-year Graduate School of Education student Jessica Cox enjoyed the meal so much she brought her partner, Tyler Wetmore, to Quaker Kitchen the next night to try it. They ate their meal in the courtyard of New College House West.