Last Saturday marked one of our first sessions for our second year for Cooking Sprouts at PS24!
The team decided to plant a new vegetable this year, peas, and we were finally able to harvest them.
We made the dough from scratch—here is one of our Sprouts rolling it out!
We topped pizza with fresh vegetables, most which we were able to harvest from our garden! Some were fresh from the farmers market :)
We used them for toppings on grilled pizzas!
Each session, we begin with a talking circle to brief everyone on the day, the ingredients, and such.
The best tomato sauce ever! Try the recipe!
We paint signs to decorate and label our garden!
OC Community: Cooking Sprouts, Teaching Kids How to Grow and Cook
"OC Community" is a column about community-oriented institutions that we and our friends support and hope to see grow. This week, Lena Vazifdar for Wilder Quarterly interviews OC alum Meghan Farrell, who volunteers at Brooklyn's Cooking Sprouts initiative.
A schoolyard in Sunset Park, Brooklyn has seen a blooming transformation with a bi-weekly volunteer-led vegetable gardening and cooking program for youth. Campbell Rankin created the program, fittingly monikered Cooking Sprouts, during the hot summer months of 2011. The program operates through New York Cares, the largest volunteer organization in New York. OC alumn Meghan Farrell helps run the program while taking photos and videos to communicate and spread the organization’s goals. “The program's mission is to engender a culture of healthy eating within the children of neighborhoods everywhere, their school, and their family and community," says Meghan. “We reach out particularly to neighborhoods, families, children, and schools that are in need.”
Early Saturday mornings, 20 or so eager third and fourth graders gather in the Sunset Park schoolyard of PS24 to plant and harvest vegetables. They grow everything from pungent basil to sweet and juicy tomatoes. Once the produce is harvested, volunteers teach the sprouts how to cook and prepare the various foods they grow. “The main element that got me super excited, was that by the program's end, they were so well-versed about the vegetables, the techniques they were using, and how to prepare the food,” says Meghan. The combination of cooking and growing with youth in Brooklyn has proved to be a perfect pairing. Meghan spoke to Wilder about the Cooking Sprouts program.
Lena Vazifdar: What types of produce do you grow in the garden?
Meghan Farrell: We grow pretty much everything. We really wanted to get the kids assimilated to harvesting and tasting a variety of items—from fresh herbs all the way to tomatoes. Last season, we grew cilantro, basil, fresh lettuces, kale, leeks, carrots, and hot peppers, and we attempted to grow pumpkins but the raccoons ate them. I think we harvested about forty-five varieties in total.
LV: Why is Brooklyn an ideal environment for this type of program?
MF: I don't think that it is all about Brooklyn as a whole as much, though we do look out for neighborhoods that have less access to fresh vegetables and produce. Sunset Park was a neighborhood we felt could really benefit from our mission and where a lot of our volunteers already lived and wanted to make a difference in their own community.
LV: Why do you think it is such a magical experience to grow food yourself and eat it?
MF: I think as a child, and with our Sprouts, it's always about the anticipation. Sort of the way kids are before Christmas. Planting any plant and watching it grow is like magic, let alone when its producing something you can actually eat. Growing up an hour from New York, my dad grew vegetables and fruit in the backyard. He used to take me to Martin Viettes, and I remember always picking out lots of seeds to grow different vegetables and we'd plant them together. I think that for the Sprouts, it must feel the same way when they check on the plants, water them, watch them grow, and finally cook with them.
LV: What type of positive effects have you seen on the children that participate? The community?
MF: It's always sort of crazy when you realize just how much kids observe and soak up during this period in their lives. Not to mention how it shapes their lives forever. All of the kids are between 7 and 11, and they are just like sponges. The more they learn, the more excited they become about the whole process of what we are doing. At the end of last season, we began interviewing the parents. So many of them said that it made the kids more excited to be in the kitchen during meal time, helping with preparation and requesting certain vegetables. You can see that in this video that I made:
LV: In what ways do you think gardening and cooking bring people together and how does gardening and cooking promote social change, especially in youth?
MF: I think that cooking and mealtime naturally bring people together. I guess it's a traditional thing. But for the purposes of our program, I think the gardening and cooking element really brings everyone in the community together and promotes a dialogue. I think that gardening is something that really isn't seen much in urban areas, and so naturally, people are intrigued. I think the average urbanite forgets. So it ultimately promotes this social dialogue, and is a reminder to keep fresh vegetables in mind when deciding what to eat or buy. For the kids, it brings a distinct element of excitement into the way they see food, as well as their families' food preparation at home.
LV: What’s your favorite thing that you’ve learned while working with the organization?
MF: Working with this particular group of kids was really enlightening, and taught me a lot about how kids perceive and learn, and about how you can shape the way they grow to see the world. They are all so happy, so excited to be doing what they are doing and I saw them all change the way they think about food. So many times through the program, I had flashbacks to times when I really had fun while growing up, whether in camps or in educational settings—I realized how much those times really affected the choices I make today. So I guess everything just clicked for me personally.
LV: What types of cooking and gardening techniques do you teach the kids?
MF: We really teach them everything—from how to plant and sow seeds, to watering, to how to harvest the vegetables. And, of course, each vegetable has to be planted and harvested differently. In terms of preparation, we teach them everything from chopping to dicing (with only kid-safe tools, of course), and with our cooking techniques, we show them how to poach, sauté—everything!
LV: Could you share a great Spring Cooking Sprouts recipe with us?
MF: Yes, here's our recipe for a great tomato sauce:
Tomato Sauce This recipe will make enough for 8-10 servings, but the sauce freezes and reheats well. This sauce multitasks: it’s also great for dishes like chicken or eggplant parmigiana, or to use in lasagna.
1 large can whole tomatoes
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 large onions, roughly chopped
1 tiny can of tomato paste (you’ll only need about 3 tablespoons)
1 bunch basil
1. Sauté the onions and red pepper flakes (as many as you like) in a tablespoon of olive oil in your heaviest nonreactive pot for 15 minutes on medium-high heat. Season with salt to taste.
2. Mix the finely diced garlic with half the tiny can of tomato paste.
3. After 15 minutes, when the onions are pretty well browned, make a spot in the center, add a tablespoon of olive oil, and add the garlic paste mixture. Let the little paste ball get brown before you mix it around (still keeping it alone in the center). It is finished after 5 minutes or so, after you smell a roasted garlic/tomato aroma.
4. Add the entire can of crushed tomatoes and the basil and two pinches of ground pepper.
5. In a bowl, have the kids mash up the can of whole tomatoes into chunks with their (washed!) hands. It will give the sauce a hearty texture. Only add the tomatoes, not the liquid from the can; if the sauce still needs liquid, add stock or water, because two full cans of tomatoes will make the sauce too acidic. Discard the extra tomato juice, or save it for another purpose.
6. Simmer sauce for 10 minutes and it’s ready.
LV: What do you hope the future will be for Cooking Sprouts?
MF: I really hope that over the next few years, we continue to expand into other public schools across NYC. Our goal is to create a website where we will have a program kit so that any school or community is able to adopt our program. It will include everything from how to construct vegetable beds to our recipes and our activities. Once our handbook is complete, everyone on the Cooking Sprouts team hopes that, with our efforts and media presence, communities and schools will be able to adopt the program in other states—maybe even other countries one day. The movement for healthy eating for children is enormous right now, and especially in the US. We really hope to continue to make a difference in these kids' lives!
For more info about Cooking Sprouts follow them on tumblr and twitter.