Summer Youth: In the Kitchen

Text by Amanda West, photos by Viviana Lindo

It’s a Monday morning, and inside the on-farm kitchen at ECO City Farms, there is the sound of chop-chop-chopping, water rinsing, and people busy at work. The Summer Youth Program, 14 members strong, is holding the weekly cooking class, led by instructor Viviana Lindo.

“Today we are making Mediterranean food,” notes Viviana, and explains the items on the menu that appear on the kitchen’s blackboard: baba ganoush, chick peas, lamb kabobs, falafel, and stuffed grape leaves. The food specialist today is co-instructor Benny Erez, who originally hails from the middle east, and is delighted to teach how to make the many parts of this meal.

The kids are broken into groups and given assignments – because of the ethnicity of this meal, there are many vegetables and fruits the kids have not seen or tasted. One participant, Wudoo, holds up a big red ball like fruit: a pomegranate, which will be opened up to harvest the seeds inside.

Each Monday, the kids cook their own lunch, each with a theme that introduces them to new vegetables, fruits, tastes and smells.  It’s a place to work together as a team as well, each taking on tasks to bring a dish to completion. Whether chopping onion, learning to roll up stuffed grape leaves, or squeezing lemons for lemon juice, each task is a learning process that shows how their team effort yields a tangible result: a meal for everyone.

And with each meal, Viviana goes straight to scratch items to show them how easy it can be to create something yourself. They’ve made pizzas, pasta, salads, egg frittata and quinoa to name a few.

“Before starting teaching this summer I asked myself – What is it that we want students to understand about themselves and the world though our food, urban farms cooking and nutrition experience?”

“Today was the first time any of them have had lamb, and they liked it.” Benny’s lamb kabobs of course, were a tasty first introduction that had a lot of success. Sometimes the foods they cook are a hit, sometimes they are not.

Many times success can be measured in degrees. Noted Cianna with honesty, “I was a little skeptical coming in. I knew that what we would be cooking would involve cooking a lot of vegetables. I don’t like vegetables. But with the things we cooked I could barely taste them.”

“My favorite was the pizza and pasta,” she continued. “It was fun making dough and seeing it getting turned into pasta.”

“I remember vividly the second Monday of our program,” recalls Viviana, “they were all amazed to see that with a cup of flour and an egg, they could do their favorite meal: pasta. Also, that with a mix of flour, water, yeast and salt we can make pizza – another favorite dish.  They told me that it’s like magic, it was fun, and easy to make – but most importantly it tasted better and it was a learning experience.”

Although expectations must be tempered, it is ECO staff’s wish that the kids take these lessons on with them into the future.

“I really love to cook for my family,” writes ZullyKay, “Now that I’ve learned new spices/herbs I can show my family and even cook for them the new dishes I’ve learned to make here at ECO City Farm.”

“I enjoy making food and it’s healthy,” say Ray. “Eating this type of food can help me prevent from getting heart disease or diabetes.”

Recalling the program’s goals, Viviana notes: “We wanted them to understand that by practicing ‘sustainability’ as a way to improve our quality of life – economically, socially and most importantly environmentally. It is important to teach this to all students now and for future generations.”

“As an educator,” she continues, “I needed to inspire them through education on how to be respectful of their health and the health of the environment, so that we empower them to live sustainably.”

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