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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Garden Lessons Cause Kids To Crave Vegetables

A program in Boston is whetting kids’ appetites for local produce by taking them on a tour of the food system, from seed to market to plate.

Kids from The Blue Hill Boys & Girls Club in Boston, MA display summer pickings from their garden.

Grow, Cook, Eat

One way to teach good-food virtues to kids: get their hands dirty.

In Boston, a restaurant owner and a chef have joined forces with an urban youth program to show kids how good fresh, local food can be. And they seem to be on to something.

The project, called Farm to Change, shows kids between the ages of 8 and 12 how to grow food from seed and make recipes from their harvests.

At the Blue Hill Boys and Girls Club in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, kids plan a menu in early spring, and then plant and grow the vegetables they need to serve it.

Owner of the Post 390 restaurant, Chris Himmel, said cultivating produce connects kids more closely to their food than classroom instruction or even trips to a farm.

“You can really see it in their eyes that it means something to them, and it’s something they take home and they talk to their parents about,” he said. “The goal is that maybe they’ll have those discussions so that when it comes time to make those food decisions, maybe they’ll make a bit more of a healthier choice.”

Picky Eaters

Figuring out what kind of foods kids respond to is a “hit-or-miss” process, Himmel said.

At a summer barbecue, the program served kid-picked sweet corn, grilled inside the husks and seasoned with olive oil and sea salt. He said the corn even overshadowed sugary treats that had been held in reserve as a kind of bribe.

“None of the kids wanted anything to do with the cookies. All they wanted to eat was the entire tray of corn,” he said. “To me that said hey, this is kind of working.”

Cucumber and fruit-flavored drinks with no added sugar, on the other hand, were not so popular.

“They came off the basketball court like they were going for Gatorade, and they were taking sips and just spitting it all over,” he said. “I think it was the shock factor—’this isn’t Coca Cola or any of that stuff.’ It shows you what we’re up against. They have their mind set on that stuff already at 8 to 10 years old.”

Other garden-source recipes that worked, he said, included flat-bread pizza with kale and fresh tomatoes, and sweet-and-sour ratatouille.

Margherita Pizza With Garlic And Kale

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pizza or bread dough
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch kale, washed
  • 4 oz fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 2 fresh tomatoes
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ bunch washed, leaves cut into thin strips
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • ¾ cup all purpose flour

Cooking Directions

  1. Remove kale from stalks and cut very thin.
  2. In a sauté pan, heat half the olive oil (1/4 cup) over medium heat, add garlic then kale.
  3. Cook while stirring for 2 minutes then add water and cook until the water evaporates.
  4. Cool, season with salt and pepper and lightly squeeze out any excess liquid.
  5. Thinly slice tomatoes and drain on clean kitchen towel. Also drain fresh mozzarella the same way.
  6. Preheat the oven to 450 and place a pizza stone or inverted cookie sheet tin on oven rack.
  7. Sprinkle flour on a pizza paddle.
  8. Cut dough into 4 equal pieces (4 oz each) and roll in flour.
  9. Working on the pizza paddle, roll out 1 portion of dough with a rolling pin, then continue to stretch dough with hands shaping into a thin circle.
  10. Brush dough w/ olive oil, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese, add kale, sliced tomatoes, tomato sauce, mozzarella and salt and pepper.
  11. Carefully transfer topped pizza to oven, sliding pizza off paddle onto pizza stone.
  12. Cook for approximately 5-8 minutes, until bottom of pizza is browned and top is bubbling.
  13. Remove pizza from oven with paddle, transfer to a cutting board. Top with fresh basil and cut into slices.
  14. Repeat with remaining pizza dough.

Sweet And Sour Ratatouille

Ingredients

  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 summer squash
  • 1 Spanish onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 piece, thumb-sized ginger, peeled and grated fine
  • 3 over-ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup mirin
  • 1 tsp Vietnamese fish sauce
  • ¼ small can tomato paste
  • 1 tsp sambal
  • 10 leaves Thai basil
  • ¼ bunch cilantro
  • 2 scallions
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Cooking Directions

  1. In a sauce pot, combine sugar, vinegar, mirin, fish sauce, tomatoes, tomato paste and sambal.
  2. Simmer and reduce by 1/3 then puree.
  3. Cube (medium dice) eggplant (some skin removed), zucchini, summer squash and onion.
  4. In a large skillet, heat canola oil and add onions.
  5. Cook until slightly brown then add eggplant, zucchini, squash, garlic and ginger.
  6. Cook over medium heat occasionally stirring until vegetables are slightly soft.
  7. Add tomato liquid and simmer for 10 minutes.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste, finish w/ sesame oil, sesame seeds, chopped Thai basil, scallion and cilantro.

Chad Bouchard

Chad Bouchard is a veteran reporter and WFIU alum who has covered wild and wooly beats from Indonesia to Capitol Hill. His radio work has aired on NPR, PRI and Voice of America, and his writing has appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and Scientific American’s health magazine, Lives. He has also spent a lifetime gardening, foraging and eating weird stuff.

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