I recently visited the Willie Mays Boys and Girls Club to find out from the children what participating in USDA’s Summer Food Service Program means to them. Year-round, afternoons at the Club means the children get to cook a healthy bean and kale soup, with fresh ingredients they grow in the Club’s Edible Schoolyard. It also means that on a cool winter day a few blocks away from the San Francisco Bay, children brave the weather to water and tend to their garden knowing the strawberries will soon be ready to eat. For Rena, the first strawberry that she ever ate came from the Edible Schoolyard, where she planted it. Now, of course, strawberries are her favorite food.
When I met Nick, he was jumping with excitement to describe how he learned to cook mashed potatoes. He starts with potatoes from the Club’s garden, adds an onion and a pinch of salt –and garlic, which surprises me — and then rounds it off with a spoonful of butter. Now that he has learned to cook, Nick explained that his mom has him helping with the family dinners at home. When I asked the kids, “What was the most recent meal you learned to cook?” I knew I was going to be surprised. Elizabeth and Laura told me that just before Thanksgiving they learned to make a new side dish of turnips and beets with a miso sesame dressing. Sounded delicious! It amazed me that a group of six- to eight-year-olds would enjoy making and trying all these new foods that many of them never had the opportunity to try before.
I smiled as I heard about all the important lessons Iris, the Garden Director, was sharing with the children: a healthy garden mirrors the health and growth of a child’s body. Iris reminded me the importance of getting kids in the garden to experience how things grow. “That,” she said, “builds a desire in kids to try new things.” As Iris and I walked through the Clubhouse, two other children pulled her aside and asked when they will go out to the garden. I realized that I was holding up the show, keeping the kids from experiencing the lessons a garden can teach about living a healthy lifestyle.
The Willie Mays Boys and Girls Club at Hunters Point in San Francisco operates the Summer Food Service Program year-round pilot, serving meals when school is out of session and snacks after school when school is in session. For more information on how your organization can participate in the Summer Food Service Program, visit http://www.summerfood.usda.gov/.
This post is the first of four weekly blog postings on Summer Food Service Programs in the Western Regional States.Stay tuned for the next post celebrating the winners of the Western Region’s Summer Sunshine Awards.