As I traipsed behind a bunch of 7-year-olds in a sheep pasture, one little girl looked disgustedly at my flimsy sandals and cried, “You should have worn your poop-proof boots,” as she proudly modeled her hot pink, knee-high rubber boots.
This is just one of the hilarious comments that I heard during my day at Katchkie Farm, an organic community supported farm in Kinderhook, NY (a partner of The Sylvia Center).
The 7-year-olds were second graders from the Ichabod Crane Primary School, and their Program for the day was called Fresh Food Comes From the Farm. The morning starts with a sensory tour of the Learning Garden. Students are encouraged to touch, smell, and taste from among the over 200 varieties of edible vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. Then students dig, weed, and harvest before moving to the outdoor kitchen to chop, mix, cook, and eat a healthy, delicious group lunch while talking about what they have learned and enjoying each other’s company.
The day I visited the children were making butternut squash minestrone and herb potato salad. They picked fresh herbs and tomatoes from the garden and took turns adding it to the gigantic black propane pot that sat in the field’s outdoor kitchen. As the children were taught how to safely cut tomatoes in half, they could be heard chatting to their friends, “My tomato is bleeding.” “My dad doesn’t let me use knives.” “I going to try to eat my knife.”
I also tagged along to the animal and seed station where we began with calming exercises which included deep breaths and stretching, so that we would not be too excited when we visited the animals. Next, we were all given a seed, a small piece of clay, and some soil. We were shown how to carefully press our seed into the clay, form it into a ball and cover it with soil. One little girl was thrilled when she found out that her seed was going to turn into a beautiful pink flower come springtime, and its name was kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate. The little guy standing next to me kept asking, “Can I eat this seed or is it poison?”
The mission of The Sylvia Center is to inspire young people and their families to establish independent healthy eating habits, so that they may lead healthy and productive lives. Participants learn what fresh food is, how delicious it tastes, and how to prepare nutritious meals on a daily basis. Over the past decade, The Sylvia Center has taught healthy cooking to nearly 20,000 students in New York City and Columbia County. In The Sylvia Center’s Learning Garden, their outdoor kitchen at Katchkie Farm, and in local schools and community centers, families are taught skills that inspire children and their parents to establish independent healthy eating habits so that they may lead healthy and productive lives.
FRESH FOOD COMES FROM THE FARM
During this 4-hour immersive program on Katchkie Farm, students walk like a farmer and think like a chef. As they tour the farm and taste their way through the Learning Garden, they are encouraged to try new foods and to think about how the fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even flowers they are tasting, could serve as an ingredient in a meal. The children are also reminded not to yuck my yum, until they have at least tasted the food. Youth take part in every step of the story of food including planting seeds, pulling weeds, harvesting organic produce, and creating and sharing a meal together. In addition, the children also have the opportunity to meet (and hold!) the chickens, collect eggs, pet the sheep, and visit with the pigs.
After pulling a carrot directly from the ground, carrying it to the outdoor kitchen, working with the Farm Chef to create a meal, and then eating the meal, the children understand much more about food. After eating a cherry tomato that they have just picked, children experience the joy of eating fresh food. They walk away with recipes in hand and the basic culinary skills needed to make healthy food choices for themselves. Children who help cook healthy meals, are more likely to eat them.
This fall, HFFA launched an expansion of their culinary series programming in the city of Hudson in partnership with 6 community partners. With funding from a grant awarded by the Berkshire Taconic Foundation, they now offer 5 six-week classes for youth, teens and families per cycle, with a total of 4 cycles per school year. In addition to teaching basic culinary skills and promoting confidence in the kitchen, participants take home either an extra portion of the food made in class or a pantry of staple items plus a weekly Fresh Food Share to cook with at home. The hope is that by combining both culinary skills and healthy food to take home they are encouraging participants to share their experiences, skills and food with their own families.
The Healthy Food For All (HFFA) program is a five-year initiative with the support of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, which is working to improve the health of low-income children and their families throughout Columbia County while strengthening the County’s local food system. The program began in the Hudson public schools with a 5-week healthy cooking course which enables students to learn how to prepare meals at home with affordable, fresh ingredients . Eventually, there will be healthy cooking initiatives in all six of the County's school districts.
My day at Katchkie Farm ended with watching a little guy ask for a 3rd helping of the minestrone soup. “This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten. It’s better than cotton candy!”