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!

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Saving the Food

Posted by on Nov 3, 2016 in agriculture, compost, healthy lifestyle, sustainability | 0 comments

15951717452_db57fddd28_bFood is the largest source of waste in the United States.

Most of the wasted food is thrown away by consumers at home, and the most tossed foods are fruits and vegetables.

97% of the wasted food ends up in landfills, where it breaks down anaerobically (without oxygen), and emits methane, a greenhouse gas 20-30 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in its contribution to climate change.

So, what can we do? Here are a few simple tips to curb your own food waste!

  • Take a doggie bag when going out to dinner! Restaurants are another big contributor to food waste, and most diners leave food on their plates and don’t take it home to eat later.
  • Think twice about tossing food because of date labels They are not regulated and most of the time have nothing to do with how safe the food is to eat. Click here to watch a fascinating five minute film about date labels created by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic.
  • Make sure you’re storing food properly Produce keeps longer in the refrigerator. When food is about to spoil, freeze it, or cook it! You can even prepare a dish and then freeze it for a later meal. One example is peeling and freezing overripe bananas in a Ziploc bag to use to make best smoothies, banana bread, and banana ice cream!
Check out the campaign launched by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ad Council called Save the Food, and get inspired to start reducing your own food waste at home!
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spring green potato celery soup

Posted by on Mar 24, 2016 in cooking with kids, healthy food, healthy lifestyle, local food, nutrition, seasonal, sustainability | 0 comments

4904477507_bbe492a693_oEver wondered what a wildlife biologist eats to stay healthy, happy, and strong after a day of adventuring outdoors?

Well, wonder no more! Here at Butter Beans we love learning about (and sharing!) the different foods & recipes that fuel our communities. We linked up with Audubon Society’s Long Island Bird Conservation Manager Amanda Pachomski to discover her favorite healthy recipe to cook at home.

As a wildlife biologist, Amanda spends her days helping protect the Earth’s natural spaces and the many amazing creatures who live there. Ask any of the Butter Beans Food & Garden Summer Campers and they’ll tell you how important it is to care for our planet’s precious resources in order to grow and eat nourishing foods. A healthy planet means a healthy you and me!

We fell head over heals for this simple, vibrant soup and we know you will too. Its bright green color alone has us running for the kitchen. Happy cooking!


1 small yellow onion

1 large bunch celery

3 large potatoes

2-3 tsp turmeric

2 cubes vegetable bullion

1 quart water

olive oil

powdered garlic

salt & pepper

Topping, opt.

½ avocado, thinly sliced

coconut oil popcorn*

Directions: Chop onion, celery, and potatoes. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in pot over medium heat. Sauté onion until softened. Add two cubes of veggie bullion. Add celery and potatoes. Sauté for additional 5-7 minutes. Add turmeric, salt, fresh black pepper, powdered garlic, and optional pinch of chili pepper. Mix well and sauté for 2-3 more minutes. Add enough water to cover veggies, bring to a boil, and cook until veggies are soft (~20 minutes). Transfer soup to food processor or use immersion blender to blend. Pour back into soup pot to hold warm. Serve soup. Top with avocado slices, coconut oil popcorn, and a sprinkling of turmeric for a decorative and delicious garnish.

*make-your-own popcorn with our recipe for stove top popcorn. Drizzle with coconut oil once popped and mix well. Voila!


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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!

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Trending Towards Healthy – The Year in Food

Posted by on Jan 28, 2016 in families, fast food, featured articles, Food for thought, food politics, healthy food, healthy lifestyle, local food, news and happenings, nutrition, raising children, school food, sustainability | 0 comments

Looking back at the year in food, we feel more strongly than ever that we are part of a larger movement towards healthier eating. As this article from NPR points out, evidence of these trends can be seen in the biggest producers. Reacting to consumer demands, even McDonald’s has taken steps to use healthier, more sustainably produced ingredients. This shows that clearly we are part of a larger movement changing how everyone eats, not just those already shopping at Whole Foods.

We at Butter Beans are often told that we are just providing good food to a small niche. This article proves that change we are part of is now reaching all parts of the food system and our “niche” is only growing. Sales of foods marketed towards health and sustainability conscious consumers surged in 2015, indicating that a much larger trend is only beginning. As the health benefits of nutritious eating become more and more apparent (especially for young kids in schools), all kinds of consumers are acting to create a change.

If you believe in critical tipping points that propel major changes, this past year hinted that one such shift may lie near on the horizon. Often the best way to measure the success of a movement is to follow the actions of the largest and most influential actors in the industry. The fact that big, highly profit-driven companies such as Kraft are seeking to include more natural ingredients in their products makes us hopeful for the future. Healthy foods are no longer just for yoga-moms and crunchy-foodies; now all kinds of Americans are showing concern for the kinds of foods carried by even large chain supermarkets and fast-food joints. This is how a paradigm shift occurs. At Butter Beans, we see everyday how we can shape the next generation of healthy, food-educated consumers to demand that America becomes a nation that embraces nutritious food.

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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

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