For 12 weeks in spring/summer 2019, the Food Bank partnered with Raleigh Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Department on the Garden Corps project. Local teens learned about gardening from NCSU Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners in our BASF & Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Demonstration Garden, then tested out new recipes and skills in our Allscripts Teaching Kitchen. The Food Bank’s Nutrition Education Coordinator Jenny Ryan worked with the teens on those recipes and recounts her experience with the program.
When the Garden Corps program began, we weren’t sure what to expect from a group of 20 teenagers. During the first kitchen day, the students came in and were quiet and unsure of what they would be doing in the kitchen. As we got to know them, it was evident that there was not a lack of interest but a lack of confidence. One student had never used a knife, and another had never seen a grater, so of course there was some reluctance to participate.
Through review of the crop rotation plan and discussions with the Master Gardeners, we were able to pair the food the students were growing in the garden to the recipes they made in the kitchen. For many, it was their first time trying some of the vegetables. Each week before they would head to the garden, we worked on how to safely use kitchen tools, frequent cooking terms, food safety, meal planning, and how to read a recipe.
By increasing their food literacy skills, we saw the kid’s confidence grow leaps and bounds in the kitchen. It was exciting to see students who began the program with little experience in the kitchen help prepare food and be proud to show how they cubed melon or grated sweet potatoes.
After 12 weeks, the students had a graduation ceremony, including a harvest meal they prepared from food they grew in the garden.
As we ate, I asked the students their favorite part of the program. We heard from one student, “My favorite part of the kitchen was… everything. I was scared to help my mom with dinner and now I think I am going to ask what I can do to help.” That encompasses the goal of Garden Corps.
It is safe to say a little bit of magic happened during our time with the Garden Corps students. Not only did the kids learn to grow, harvest, and prepare food, but they built great relationships with the gardeners and staff, and grew their confidence and willingness to try new things…especially new fruits and vegetables!