The air hangs sweetly with the aroma of yellow onions caramelizing on the stovetop. Grated ginger hits the pan, followed closely by marigold-hued turmeric and ground cumin. As the flavors meld, the chefs directing this culinary dance move quickly and with purpose to prepare the next elements of the meal.
The kitchen is humming with a palpable sense of anticipation, when the silent workings of the culinary team is broken by a sudden and fervent outburst from the designated compost collector, eager to share an internal revelation: “We are like the ingredients in this meal. When we work together in community, we create something beautiful.”
Delighted at sharing such a discovery with her peers, she smiles broadly and takes a bite out of a kale stem she has just picked up from her cutting board. Then she casually continues her walk about the table collecting food scraps in the class compost bowl.
This nascent chef turned 7 years old in July and is preparing a lunch of coconut curry and sautéed kale with her classmates. She is one of a handful of New York City urbanites who have chosen to spend their summer exploring food from seed-to-soil at Butter Beans Food & Garden Summer Camp, and this scene is just one of many inspiring moments in the day to day for our team.
Working at the intersection of food and education, I spend a lot of time thinking about food – how to cook it, where to buy it, when to grow it, who is supported by eating it, and the potential it holds to grow the next generation of students. As you can tell from the short story here, food is a powerful tool to spark imagination and grow confidence in our children.
Food connects us to our communities, just as it links personal wellbeing and nutrition with the health of fragile ecological systems. When we choose foods that nourish our bodies and minds, more often than not we choose food that also nourishes the soil and supports practices that respect the natural world.
By planting the foundation for an adventurous palate at a young age, we set the stage for the next generation to become true stewards of the Earth and future food leaders. When children pause to consider the food that fuels them throughout their day, they enter a gateway into exploration of mindful eating, environmental integrity, social responsibility, and personal health and wellness.
The next time you find yourself looking for a family activity or a workshop in your school’s classroom, consider the fork or the gardening shovel as your tools to engage, inspire, educate, and spark imagination with these 5 ways to grow future food leaders:
- Cook. Whether you are six or sixty-six, there is magic to be found in preparing and sharing a meal with friends and family. Cooking opens the door for creativity, community-building, and learning while empowering people with the tools to take charge of their personal health.
2. Play. Food is fun! We’re all too familiar with the age-old reprimand, “Don’t play with your food.” What if we turned that idea on its head? While it’s certainly best that mashed potatoes remain on the plate rather than catapulted against the wall, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain when we transform eating into an act of celebration. With educational resources like Your Food Story, the Charlie Cart Project, Super Sproutz, Funny Food Art, and Butter Beans, playing with your food just got that much better.
3. Grow. Whether you live on a farm in rural Kentucky or a studio apartment in downtown Manhattan, you can grow a garden. From a pot of basil in a windowsill to a backyard of raised garden beds, growing food opens children’s eyes to the wonderment of nature and helps deepen connections to their local communities and the earth. As Stephen Ritz of the Green Bronx Machine likes to say – plant a seed, grow an organic citizen.
4. Dig. Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty! Make a DIY worm bin to compost your food scraps, or just play in the dirt. The United Nations declared 2015 to be the International Year of Soils in recognition of the role healthy soils play in building healthy communities. Encouraging kids to play in the dirt is one stop in sparking an appreciation for how the Earth supports our global food systems.
5. Explore. Remember, food is fun. Taste, adventure, set out on a scavenger hunt at the farmers market, explore a different culture through a new recipe. Doing so will expand your child’s palate and mind. Then, take the adventure out of the kitchen, and go foraging for wild edibles or visit a rooftop farm.
Inviting children to embark on a culinary adventure, plant a seed, care for a compost bin, or simply pause to give thanks for a meal are powerful acts to help inspire the next generation of champions of food, nutrition and the environment – our future food leaders.
Written by Kelly McGlinchey, Director of Food Education