- Education and Training: youth education
In 2017, Central College hosted our second “Fun with Food” summer camp, welcoming 24 campers, ages 9-12 to learn about healthy foods. The camp introduced key concepts in sustainable agriculture, utilizing the college’s own organic garden, a field trip to a local farm pioneering sustainable practices, and a visit to our local farmer’s market. Campers harvested and purchased food throughout the week to prepare healthy, kid-friendly snacks and meals. On the final day of camp, teams of campers worked with college dining staff in a cooking competition showcasing what they had learned.
With the support of this NC-SARE Youth Educator grant, Central College was able to develop a structured curriculum for the camp’s daily garden activities. Each day included a series of hands-on, small group activities in the garden, which introduced different topics: planting and saving seeds, composting, permaculture, and harvesting. These garden activities were supplemented by on-farm demonstrations and interviews with farmers at the Pella Farmers Market. Through this mix of activities, campers developed an appreciation for the variety of strategies individual growers use in planning and managing their farms.
Midway through the week, campers participated in a role play experience based on the Oxfam hunger banquet. Each individual was assigned an identity proportionate to the range of global socio-economic classes. Many were peasants who depended on subsistence agriculture for their well-being, while a few were middle and upper-middle class residents of developed countries. Campers were divided into groups within the physical space (wealthier roles sat at a table elevated on a stage, with poorer participants seated on the floor) and were fed different meals according to their status (rice, rice & beans, or a multi-course meal).
This role play proved a powerful experience for campers for a variety of reasons. Because these young people had spent several days working outside and talking with farmers, they were aware of how challenging it is to make a living at agriculture even in the U.S., with access to land and resources. The experience also provoked powerful conversation among campers because they come from a range of socio-economic classes and racial-ethnic backgrounds. The role play highlighted differences that felt close to home, in particular for a few rural white campers in the group and a few urban Latino campers, each with personal experiences of food insecurity. The role play challenged young people to talk about sustainable agriculture not only in terms of growing practices or technical methods, but in human terms, sensitive to the systemic challenges of hunger, poverty and social inequality (gender, race, nationality, etc.).
Participants in the camp completed a pre/post assessment of both fruit and vegetable consumption and nutrition literacy. Results of the questionnaire showed a high level of nutrition literacy even before the camp, with little change during the week. Campers reported their typical diet was well below the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, with a high percentage of calories coming from refined grains and processed foods. Young people’s unhealthy diets are not primarily due to lack of nutritional information, and their diets are unlikely to change through increased nutritional knowledge alone. During the week, campers had significantly increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which they helped grow, harvest, purchase, and prepare.
The pre/post data confirms a key conclusion from the project: direct engagement with healthy food is an important strategy for transforming individual diets and local food systems. When young people have access to healthy food and the opportunity to be part of a shared experience preparing healthy snacks and meals, they are far more likely to eat a healthy diet. While we do not have reliable data on long term changes to campers’ diets, we have heard anecdotal evidence from parents and school teachers about individual children who are more motivated to have a role in planning and preparing their meals, even months after the camp. Having been exposed to new foods and flavors from around the world, parents and teachers report an increased willingness to try new foods.
The only modifications to the initial proposal were in our outreach:
We have not successfully published an academic journal article about the camp, though we still hope to do so.
We have not yet linked the kids’ summer camp with the Pella senior living center. Dr. Shuger Fox continues to work with seniors in her research on nutrition and life expectancy, and we still see an opportunity for connecting across generations in activities and conversations about food. When our new garden kitchen classroom is completed in fall of 2018, we will have facilities well suited for events bringing together seniors and young people, sharing lessons on canning, cooking, and more.