Teaching Young Kids About Sustainability

Posted by on Mar 27, 2018 in food education, summer camp, sustainability | 0 comments

Campers on a field trip to the farmer's market to meet the local hard workers who supply our food.

Campers on a field trip to the farmers market to meet the local workers who supply our food.

How do you define sustainability? Some people think of it in political terms: encouraging farms and communities to take the long view in their methods of food production and transportation, ensuring we don’t decimate our soil and food supply, and preserving our environment for future generations. Some people think about sustainability in more personal terms: composting, shopping at a farmer’s market, or joining a community-supported agriculture program (CSA) to increase the sustainability of our food system.


When working with children in our camps and classes, we try to mention sustainability in the context of everything we cook, grow, and throw away. Because it’s such a global concept, however, we start small–by taking the word sustainability back to its roots, then working up to these big, abstract ideas over time. We also take special care to emphasize that even small kids can make a big impact when it comes to protecting our planet.


First, we note that this word, like many big words, is really two smaller words stuck together: sustain and ability. Since

Fellow camper taking a moment to check on our friendly composting worms.

A future farmer taking a moment to check on our friendly composting worms.

ability is more familiar as a word and concept to kids, we start there. What is an ability? It means something you can do, kids will say. We ask: What special abilities do you have, particularly when it comes to helping others? Some kids will share that they help take care of siblings, pets, or plants, for example, or perform household chores. (During our summer camp, we also talk about classroom jobs we might have, like taking care of our worms by feeding them or our plants by putting them in the sun.)


Then, we tackle the word sustain. Sustain means “to keep going.” What would happen if we stopped taking care of our pets or our plants? Would they be able to keep going without our help? All heads shake vigorously: no. While some things will happen with or without our help–the sun will rise, the planet will turn–when it comes to taking care of plants and animals that depend on us, we have to make conscious choices about how we keep certain things going.


By choosing to keep our plants and animals going in thoughtful ways as chefs and gardeners, we explain, we can make sure that we have healthy, nutritious food to sustain (or support) our families and communities in the future. We invite kids to brainstorm a list of choices they can make along these lines: re-using food waste in a new recipe, for example, or giving the food scraps to our class worms or to a local composting outfit, so that they go back into the soil rather than into a landfill.


Sustainability, once they understand it, is often an easy sell for children: they tend to love taking care of things, and are often astonished to find that this is an idea requiring championing. The harder part is explaining that sometimes, people don’t know or don’t choose to keep our planet going in a healthy way, and that the consequences of certain poor choices can affect all of us.


If we do delve into the negative side of the sustainability conversation, we do so carefully. The idea that the sunny weather they enjoy may be a harbinger of runaway climate change, that their beloved happy meal hamburgers are responsible for the release of dangerous methane gases and the unjust monopolization of vital water sources, and that the plastic refuse from their picnics might end up endangering the dolphins they idolize from afar–well, it’s a lot to lay on a child who’s still not old enough to see the latest Star Wars. Enlisting the children in our lives in the causes that drive us as an adult is an understandable impulse, but we believe the developmental needs of our learners are even more important than our politics. Young children are easily frightened, in ways we can’t always anticipate, and even adults can become disheartened when confronted with problems without being given solutions.


City kids learning about urban agriculture and rooftop farming at Gotham Greens.

City kids learning about urban agriculture and rooftop farming at Gotham Greens.

Educator David Sobel calls this dynamic “ecophobia”: the creation of a sense of disconnectedness and helplessness when facing the world’s abstract ecological problems. He criticizes many well-intentioned (but developmentally inappropriate) messages aimed at children that promote it. This includes lessons and conversations that plunge young children into modern food controversies (i.e. the issues surrounding factory farming), without first providing them with a basic understanding of the foundational concepts of food (i.e., where it comes from, how it’s grown or made, and how molecules and microorganisms play a role in the above).


Sobel argues that we need to help young children to connect to the Earth before we ask them to be responsible for it. This is something that takes time, particularly for children who do not already have experience with gardening or hands-on cooking. It follows that children, particularly those under ten, deserve a chance to first meaningfully cultivate a fear-free relationship with food and environment via hands-on exploration. Pushing a learner to contemplate worldwide issues of sustainability and fairness beforehand is, ironically, a rather unfair thing for an adult to do to a child who is not ready for that.


So, we go slow. We return to the roots of the word. We emphasize ability, and we create a space for kids to develop their own ideas about how to help. As mentioned above, we take special care to emphasize that even small kids can make a big impact–by embracing their individual and collective abilities to keep our planet going.


Below are some ways children can do their part to make our food system more sustainable:

At Brooklyn Botanical Garden,  campers witness how food scraps turn into gardening gold.

At Brooklyn Botanical Garden, campers witness how food scraps turn into gardening gold.


  • Handling food waste mindfully. Even young children can be taught to sort materials into composting, recycling and landfill categories (and talking about the differences can spark great discussions). They can also take responsibility for carrying the compost to a collection center and the recycling to a grocery store deposit machine.
  • Learning to grow a few plants at home, without pesticide, using organic soil or compost. Understanding how to grow and protect a plant using natural methods, which is no easy task, can be a memorable hands-on lesson that creates empathy and appreciation for the farmers who are choosing to do so at a large scale, protecting our bodies and planet even when it’s not the most profitable choice.
  • Learning to cook mostly meat-free meals or sides from scratch, and to make smart use of the leftovers. Explain that this enables the family to spend more money on the relatively more expensive fruits and vegetables produced by these more responsible farmers, because they are throwing less food away. Note that farmers’ markets use little to no packaging for their products, making it even safer for the plants and animals with whom we share our world.

Written by Ryan Cherecwich, M. Ed
Wellness Educator and Assistant Camp Director


Learn more about our Food & Garden Summer Camp!

Read More

summer camp reflections

Posted by on Sep 14, 2016 in cooking classes, cooking with kids, families, healthy food, summer camp | 0 comments

13882634_1141748522550748_7682930224653544935_nOne of my favorite recipes I’ve made with the young chefs during summer camp was Chipotle stuffed sweet potato skins.

They loved to scoop out the baked sweet potato from its skin. They jumped at the opportunity to squeeze lemon, shred kale and cilantro and cut the Chipotle pepper and radish. When it was time to add the cumin, salt and pepper, they all would jump at the opportunity to pinch the spices and sprinkle it over the dish. They added the corn and took turns mixing the sweet potato mixture, putting it back into the skin, sprinkling cheese and putting it on the sheet pan.

While it was in the oven they would quickly clean up their station to prepare for lunch. The counselors would put the sweet potato on the campers’ plate and we served ourselves.

From my first spoonful, I loved the dish.

The balance of the saltiness of the cheese with the sweetness of the sweet potato mixture, the corn that added a crispy texture to the creamy sweet potato and the freshness that the cilantro added was nirvana.

We asked the young chefs how they felt about the dish, I saw a couple of stuffed mouths nodding their heads and putting their thumbs up. But then I saw a few thumbs sideways and we asked what can we do to make it a thumbs up. Some children said that they don’t like spicy foods. The one comment that stuck to me the most was, “I like the flavor, but not the textures, there is too much going on here.”

13887077_1145480382177562_4024558246028311134_nDuring my time at summer camp I loved to see the campers curious to learn the different components of a dish, even if they know what is in it they love to see it separately. I can very much relate this to food service. When working at schools, I see kids enthusiastic to go to the cold bar after they get their flavorful hot food item, because it is their chance to create their own, or in other words, be a chef.

I love seeing them pick and choose different items to make a vegetarian wrap or make a yogurt parfait. It shows that kids love to make their own meals from an early age, which can help expand their minds and allows them to express their inner passion and creativity.

This post was written by Kelly Laurent, Food + Garden Summer Camp Counselor & Food Service Associate  


Read More

Meet Brooklyn’s Newest Food Bloggers

Posted by on Jul 23, 2016 in cooking with kids, Food for thought, local food, news and happenings, Recipes, summer camp | 0 comments

Much like this abundance of summer sun and sweet produce, Butter Bean’s Food and Garden Camp has been full of sweet shining campers.

One of my favorite parts about working with our campers for an extended period of time is witnessing the individual characters and creative learning styles that each camper exhibits. Much like myself, most of our campers love hands on learning, like playing with worms to teach vermicomposting, or riding a bike to churn homemade ice cream that was made with only 6 ingredients! These were two of many inspiring field trips that our campers had the chance to experience. It was on these field trips that two of our older seasoned campers took it upon themselves to become food bloggers.

image4Every summer journals are given out for the campers to write their thoughts, recipes, questions, impressions, or pictures in.  Two of our Brooklyn campers, Aiden and Chloe, decided that they would also use their journals for food blogging. They have since been recording information at each and every field trip, asking the specialists questions while quickly jotting down notes. They also decided it was important to interview their peers and gather opinions on the food we tasted, noting favorites vs least favorites.

Not only was this dedication and focus impressive (and contagious with the other campers), but the next day after each field trip, our aspiring food bloggers brought in typed up reports of their research.

What we hope to provide here at Butterbeans camp is inspiration and knowledge about food and where it comes from. What I am continuously amazed by is how the campers use that inspiration and take action on learning even more!

FullSizeRender (7)I can’t say for certain, but look out for Aiden and Chloe, two inseparable friends who are always hungry for both good food and knowledge. They may just become New York’s youngest food writers.

This post was written by Annie Duffy, Butter Beans Food & Garden Summer Camp Counselor & Food Educator

                                          image2 (3)image3 (3)image7



image1 (4)

Read More

summer camp early bird special!

Posted by on Mar 8, 2016 in cooking with kids, families, gardens, healthy food, healthy lifestyle, raising children, summer camp, sustainability | 0 comments

Early Bird Camp Special Ends Tuesday, March 15th

IMG_2363Sign up for our Food & Garden Summer Camp before the early bird flies away!

As spring approaches each year, our camp team becomes increasingly excited since after spring comes summer, and with summer comes the opportunity for us to play, dig, cook, explore and grow at Butter Beans Food & Garden Summer Camp!

Technically, our camp is for children ages 5-11, but it’s impossible for our team to not have fun as they take our campers on amazing adventures through the food landscape of a city as densely diverse and exciting as NYC.

We love the laughter and joy that comes with handing a child his or her first worm and teaching them the important role worms play in creating the compost we’ll use in our garden. We also can’t resist the thoughtfully crafted dishes made by expert food artisans who are dedicated to making our city healthier and better by sourcing ingredients locally and sustainably. And how can we not mention the time spent foraging in the parks for wild edibles?11539620_919843904741212_3458107264933377832_n

This is what our camp is all about, and these are just a few of the experiences we begin to eagerly anticipate as winter turns to spring.

We work diligently throughout preceding months to curate a summer experience that keeps your child/ren thoroughly engaged!

And while our field trips and workshops are meant to be a ton of fun, they are also hugely educational! Our campers don’t realize how much they’re improving their math, science, communication, interpersonal and problem-solving skills, but their parents do!

Join us for summer 2016 and give your child/ren the opportunity to play, dig, cook, explore and grow at camp.
If you sign up before Tuesday, March 15th you’ll receive 10% off camp tuition! This discount can be combined with our sibling discount as well as returning camp discount! Depending on your situation, you could save up to 15% on camp tuition.

There’s no reason not to sign up now! Summer is coming and it’s sure to be an amazing one for all at Butter Beans Food & Garden Summer Camp!

Read More

DIY earth-friendly recipe for sowing seeds

Posted by on Sep 11, 2015 in families, Food for thought, gardens, healthy lifestyle, home remedies, local food, summer camp, Valentine's Day, pink lemonade, cranberries, recipes, wellness | 0 comments

During each camp session at Butter Beans Food & Garden Summer Camp, our budding chefs & gardeners bring in repurposed planters that would otherwise end up in the recycling bin or landfill. Campers fill their makeshift pots with soil, sow a seed with care, and water gently. They care for their plant throughout camp, lighting up with excitement when the first sprout peeks above the soil.

At the end of the camp session, the kids head home with their new plants to continue their gardening duties. Those campers who join us for multiple sessions teach new campers the art of planting, and are always thrilled to create another earth-friendly planter.

One of our campers (and future celebrity chef) Aidan was with us for five weeks of Food & Garden Summer Camp 2015 and became an expert in sowing seeds. This morning he asked mom to send us an update on his windowsill garden and boy, were we excited to open that e-mail! Check out this creative garden. Shout out to camper Aidan on his green thumb!



As our campers have shown us, you can grow a garden wherever you are, no matter the time of year, with a little bit of creativity and a lot of heart. Read on and get growing.

DIY earth-friendly recipe for sowing seeds:

  • 1 recycled container
  • Soil/compost mix
  • 2 seeds
  • Water
  • Sunshine
  • Love & Care

Directions: Cut your recycled container (e.g. milk carton or plastic bottle) in half. Add enough soil/compost mix to fill the container. Dig a small well with your thumb in the soil, then add 2 seeds.* Cover the seeds lightly with soil. Water, and place the pot in a sunny spot and watch your seeds grow!

*If both seeds sprout, remove one so that the other can grow big and strong. If you remove it carefully, you can try replanting it in another container. Leftover egg cartons are also great for sprouting seeds.

Written by Kelly McGlinchey, Director of Food Education

Read More

One Summer Morning at Stone Barns Farm Camp

Posted by on Sep 9, 2015 in agriculture, cooking with kids, Food & Farm program, gardens, healthy food, healthy lifestyle, local food, summer camp, sustainability, wellness | 0 comments

Sitting among the soft rolling hills of Tarrytown, New York, resides Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture – the rural outpost of Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant and the nonprofit educational farm where some 450 students spend part of their summer here each year. Now in its eleventh season, Stone Barns Farm Camp offers kids in grades first through eighth the opportunity to explore the food that fuels them on farm-to-table adventures and interactive activities in food and agriculture.


The camp’s aim to inspire future food leaders resonates with us here at Butter Beans. At Butter Beans Food & Garden Summer Camp we are continually seeking innovative examples of food education, and opportunities to share best practicesIMG_2953 in the field. With this vision in mind, and inspired by the Farm Camp’s online brochure, I reached out to Stone Barns to arrange a visit to camp. A few e-mail exchanges and some minor schedule changes later, and I was on my way up I-87 headed north, out of the bustling traffic of New York City to Tarrytown. I pulled into the gravel driveway that led up to the Stone Barns Center at 8:45 AM. Though only an hour’s drive north of midtown Manhattan, the tranquil, misty fields lining either side of the drive painted a bucolic scene, evoking images of a simpler time when the pace of life ebbed in rhythm with the rising sun and changing winds.


A bit further up the drive, the scene before me told a more nuanced story of this verdant setting. As I walked to the Center’s entrance, two school buses pulled up to the sidewalk, opened their doors, and out piled two dozen city kids, unabashed smiles and visible excitement adorning their faces on today – their first day of camp. The day of my visit was the first Monday of the final session of Farm Camp 2015, and both new and returning campers filed into the main hall to decorate their farm journals in preparation for the day ahead.


Walking among the tables of Sprouts, Growers, Farmers, and Foragers (apt names for the various age groups), I listened in as the counselors drummed up excitement for the day’s activities and fielded the numerous questions of curious campers. The groups gathered in the Center’s stone courtyard for an official welcome to camp and then set out for farm adventures.


I followed Camp Director Jason Hult to address the first item on the agenda for the Sprouts – turkey herding. Most of us are familiar with the relationship of shepherd and sheep, but as the campers and I learned that morning herding is an equally important task for turkeys given their lifestyle at Stone Barns.


One of the farm’s operating principles is happy animals. As Dan Barber illuminates in his book The Third Plate, animals that are cared for and respected during their life in turn produce a superior meal, both in terms of nutrition and flavor. For Stone Barns, part of this means that the turkeys are moved between their indoor and outdoor homes during the day, and given plenty of space to move about.


After an engaging explanation and demonstration from Jason (in which Jason and I played the turkeys for the kids to practice their herding skills), we set off down the patIMG_2942h to the turkey house and met one of the farm apprentices to shepherd the turkeys to their outside paddock. Some of the campers had trepidations as we started down the dirt path with the flock – a justifiable feeling given that some of the campers were not much taller than these confident heritage turkeys. But with the guidance and encouragement of the camp counselors, the campers gracefully saw to it that each turkey made it to its outdoor home.


Throughout the morning as I listened to the exchanges between campers and counselors over garden beds and grassy pastures, I was reminded of the unique community that grows from a shared excitement for food. Whether you’re sowing seeds or herding turkeys, it’s hard not to get excited. Every way you approach it, food is an opportunity for engagement. It is the universal language that binds us, regardless of age, ethnicity, or professional pursuit.


The students who come through Butter Beans Food & Garden Summer Camp and Stone Barns Farm Camp give us hope for what the future of food holds when we empower youth with the tools to grow, cook, and pause to consider the food on their plate. As a farmer sows seeds in the soil and awaits that first flush of green to burst forth from the ground, so too does an educator sow the seeds of innovation that will grow a mindful community of global food citizens.



Special thanks to our friends at Stone Barns for their gracious hospitality and abundant energy!

Written by Kelly McGlinchey, Director of Food Education

Read More