Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Shout-out to our Sponsors

One of the most amazing, inspiring things about being part of this program has been all of the strong, widespread support we have received. It's so wonderful to see the ways in which this community works together. I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about some of our main supporters and sponsors, in terms of food, resources, and general good karma.

Community Food Initiatives is an Athens-based nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing local food security and self-reliance. They are responsible for a number of programs around the county, including community gardens, workshops, and the Donation Station.

The Donation Station sets up a booth at the Athens Farmers Market every Wednesday and Saturday. Shoppers at the market can make donations of food or money to the booth; the money is then used to purchase fresh vegetables from the farmers vending at the market. The farmers, for their part, regularly donate extra produce that they have on hand. This was how we got a large percentage of our food for the SFSP, especially the fresh fruit and vegetables. Sometimes we had to get creative to use whatever happened to be in season, but personally I feel like that's the best way to cook!

We absolutely could not have done this without Kids on Campus. Based through Ohio University, this program offers ongoing enrichment at many sites throughout the county. It provides a mixture of educational, recreational, and nutritional activities through after-school and summer programs. CFI partnered with KoC for the summer program at Fed Hock, and we were very lucky to do so, as they provided resources, funding, staff - and just the fact that they supported our very ambitious project speaks worlds.

Shagbark Seed & Mill is a company based in Athens that focuses on producing and providing staple beans and grains. These elements compose a major part of our diet, yet usually they are sourced from thousands of miles away. Through a grant from the Wallace Foundation, we used their spelt (an ancient form of wheat that is more nutritious & easier to digest) flour, spelt berries, and amaranth grain. We made muffins, pancakes, breakfast cereal, and so much more with this fresh local product, and really enjoyed the support of this forward-thinking company.

We went through a LOT of Snowville milk this summer. Produced just down the road in Meigs County from happy, grass-fed cows, this fresh, non-homogenized, flash-pasteurized milk is chock-full of creamy nutrition. We received invaluable support from the folks over at Snowville (and a few donations!), and every time we needed more, a few crates of milk "the way it used to be" that was just as fresh as could be was delivered for our use. Once the kids got used to the idea that their milk was not going to be full of corn syrup and food coloring, they drank it down!

Crumbs Bakery has been turning out healthy, tasty bread products in Athens for decades. We used their bread for sandwiches and French toast, their pizza dough for breadsticks, their scones for breakfast (and tasty snacking!), sandwich buns for sloppy Joes. They sell at the Athens Farmers Market on Saturdays, so we were able to procure a lot of their whole-wheat bread via generous donations to the Donation Station. Throughout, they too provided enthusiastic support and were ever willing to spend time putting together an order for us.

The Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative supports Shagbark and works "to create a model staple food system that gives farmers a market for growing healthy, high nutrition beans, grain, and oil seed. We want to see staple food farming move away from chemical dependent and low nutrition GMOs to crops and methods that help us feed each other while caring for the soil, the very foundation of good, healthy food."

Ohio Foodshed is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in supporting local food. One great connection through this website is the Chesterhill Produce Auction. Located about 40 minutes away from Athens, this biweekly event brings together farmers who grow in large quantities and can thus sell cheaply and people who need to buy a lot - or even a little. Bidding commences. Duane, master of the Donation Station, made frequent trips to the auction for us to acquire some fresh produce. What a great resource!

The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks is the one who signs our checks (those of the four Americorps/VISTAs who have been working away this summer!). Located in Columbus, they organize and collaborate with Ohio's 12 Feeding America foodbanks and provide constant support for increasing food security in our state.

I'm going to stop here for now; if I excluded any organization from this list, it was surely unintentional. There's a long list of individuals who have also contributed countless amounts of time, energy, support, love, etc, etc. who hopefully someday I will have time to come through and thank.

Continuing Culinary Creations

It's hard to believe that it was just last week that we were still in the throes of the SFSP! So much got accomplished last week; I feel that in a lot of ways we were really just beginning to hit our stride, in terms of food preparation and working with the kids. However, all of us who've been working with the program are equally exhausted, so amid the bittersweet farewell I think we breathed a collective sigh of relief.

One way or the other, I wanted to share with you some of the meals we prepared over the last few days. On Wednesday morning for breakfast, we toasted Crumbs cinnamon-currant bread and served it with scrambled-farm fresh eggs loaded with plenty of fresh cheese - a perennial favorite among the kids. All of our meals this week were complete with an array of fresh fruit - a testament to the hot summer growing season and our generous local farmers' ample bounty. One morning we had enough extra peaches, apples, and other fruit to cook up a batch of fresh applesauce!

Thursday's lunch was another smorgasbord of color, roundly filling the plates with exciting food. We made hummus, a delectable, savory dip made from chickpeas, and served it with fresh veggies, whole-wheat pita, and organic corn chips for dipping. An Italian-inspired vegetable salad and a hard-boiled egg rounded out this meal, perfectly light for a hot summer's afternoon.

We stayed busy in the classroom, too. This week's lesson reviewed the food groups, serving sizes, and the nutrients contained therein. We also got to have a little treat, also perfect for a summer's afternoon, as Cindy and Dane showed the kids how to make fresh whipped cream, which they lavished over fresh-cut melon and Crumbs scones. How fancy (and delicious!)

The week continued a-hustle and a-bustle. We whipped up one last batch of toasty oat breakfast cereal (aka granola), which served with an assortment of fresh fruit, went over very well. The last morning, breakfast was a sweet bread pudding, although in retrospect we probably ought to have named it something other than "pudding" as a cooked breakfast pudding differs just a little from Jell-O chocolate pudding. Nevertheless, it turned out wonderfully and went over very well. Even to the last, the kids were taking any new stuff we could throw at them and gamely eating it! I'm really impressed by these students; they experienced at least one new food every day for five weeks, and kept coming back.

For lunch the last day, we had a special treat! Campers were invited to bring their parents, siblings, friends, etc, and the camp had a celebration of sorts. A talent show and dance party took place, among many other fun activities. And for lunch? Hot, fresh pizza! We made the whole-wheat dough from scratch the night before and loaded it with mixed cheeses and colorful fresh bell peppers. Delicioso!

But lunch Friday was not limited just to delectable pizzas. Amid the gala festivities, I didn't get a chance to take any more pictures, but we had a green salad (in fact, two enormous buckets of green salad for all the guests!), the ever-popular ants on a log (celery + natural peanut butter + currants), and beautiful fruit kebabs threaded with small watermelon and cantaloupe balls, pineapple, grapes, and strawberries, and served in a hollowed-out watermelon bowl. We had a lot of help putting this meal together; the Kids on Campus VISTAs did a beautiful job with the kebabs, and everyone teamed up to make lunch, and the whole camp, something to be proud of.

Friday, July 29, 2011

On the morning of the last day

I'll write a proper post later, summarizing today and the past few action-packed days of this hectic, whirlwind week (but, then, aren't they all whirlwinds?). For now, though, as I watch the sun rise over Athens and enjoy my last few minutes of sit-down time before the day begins, I wanted to offer a few thoughts.

Today is the last day of the summer program at Fed Hock. Part of me can't believe that five weeks have already passed, and part of me is shocked that only five weeks have elapsed. It has been a busy, chaotic, intense, rewarding five weeks, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I am going to miss the kids; I know I will wonder about many of them over the remainder of the summer and into next school year. I'm going to miss the rest of the kitchen crew. Despite the myriad situations in which tensions rose and fell, we are a team, and what we accomplished on a daily basis is something to be proud of. I'll miss getting up every day (though I might not miss getting up at 5 AM) knowing that I'm changing a little corner of the world, knowing that I'm helping to provide nourishment to 50 kids. In speaking of nourishment, I refer mostly to the kind we whip up in the kitchen and excitedly plate at breakfast and lunch, but I know that we are also nourishing their brains, hearts, and souls, and that for many of them it means so much just that we are positive adults who are open to them, day in and day out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Joes and Boats

This week so far, as seems to be the trend lately, both lunches have been meals we had not done before, and both breakfasts were popular repeats. And everything has met with popular success!

It can be discouraging at meal time; after bustling around all morning doing our best to create a meal that is tasty and nutritious and just overall something we can believe in, we dash into the cafeteria with eager smiles on our faces, ready to share with the kids that day's culinary victory! During the first few weeks of camp, there was many a time where our enthusiasm was met with blank stares at best, and lots of untouched meals at worst. Over time, though, the kids have risen to meet our enthusiasm (some days - Monday mornings, everyone is usually moving pretty slowly no matter what. . .), and they are really chowing down. Food waste has decreased so much. It still isn't perfect, but it's worlds away from the beginning of camp. Hence why I still call meals successes!

Monday for lunch, like I said, we tried something new again - Sloppy Joes. This was a favorite of mine growing up, and I remember my mom making it both with meat and without, so I was a little excited. We cooked a bunch of soft, hearty brown lentils and mixed them in with a sauce made from fresh tomatoes and plenty of savory spices. Piled on a fresh Crumbs roll (they were so generous as to make us a special order of kid-sized sandwich buns! Thanks guys!) and sprinkled with grated cheddar, they were a perfect comfort-food lunch.

Rounding out that lunch, complete with summer's bounty, we had chunks of fresh watermelon, crisp green beans, and a carrot-cabbage coleslaw in creamy dressing. Fed Hock Superintendent George Wood was in the building that day, and he got to try a plate, too - lucky him! We are so grateful to have his support.

For breakfast today, we made another batch of cinnamon-raisin-nut muffins using that wonderful Shagbark spelt flour. We got another few pecks of peaches from donation, so each muffin was served with peach slices and, as a special bonus (time to clean out the freezer from all that fruit we've been freezing all summer!) everyone got a small smoothie, as well.

When I say "summer's bounty" in late July, many gardeners and farmers know precisely which vegetable, more than any other, I am referring to. Zucchini! Everyone's favorite! Well, at least it becomes everyone's favorite, whether or not they have any say in it. Like most of you, we have also been forced to get creative to use up all the zucchini that has been flowing to us from the school garden.

Today's lunchtime creation: Zucchini boats. These boats floated in filled with oceans of flavor - brown rice cooked with fresh onions and peppers, then blended with fresh tomatoes and plenty of cheese to stick it all together before loading it onto the zucchini boat (some looked more like zucchini rafts). We sprinkled a bit of breadcrumbs on them before baking - and they were delicious! A teacher and a few students actually asked me for the recipe for these, which could easily be stuffed with any other grain or combination of vegetables you have handy! We served them with peanut butter and apples on Crumbs honey-wheat bread, which is always a crowd favorite.

Speaking of recipes, we have been working very hard over the last week to compile all the recipes we have been using this summer. They will be assembled into a cookbook that we'll send home with the students on the last day of camp. I'm excited to put this tool into their hands; even if each family only makes one recipe from the book, that's fifty more delicious, healthy meals being made in Athens County.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

squash, smoothies, and swimming!

I've been writing a lot about the summer growing season and the bountiful produce we've been getting from local farms, but I wanted to pause a moment and mention one other burgeoning source of these vegetables - the garden at Fed Hock!

All summer, guided by Molly Jo (recently of CFI) and Kelly (another enthusiastic gardener), the students have been learning about gardening, planting, composting, and everything that goes along with having a prosperous garden. And, fortunately, it has paid off! Not a day went by this week where a student or two didn't come in proudly toting an armful of squash, just harvested from outside. We had scarce but to mention that we wanted some kale to make kale chips with, and before we turned around, Kelly was in from the garden bearing an enormous pile of the leafy green.

As most gardeners and farmers this time of year experience, we too are experiencing a case of zucchini overabundance! Hating to be ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, we are forced to get creative to find ways to use up all of this wonderful, fresh produce. So far, we're doing all right - Wednesday's nutty zucchini bake and Thursday's zucchini fries proved to be a big hit, and naturally there was plenty of shredded zucchini in the chili.

Friday morning met with an air of excitement - it was field trip day! The long-awaited KoC trip to the Nelsonville pool was finally here. This would be an all-day field trip, so long in fact, that the kids weren't even to get off the buses in the morning, eating their breakfasts on the bus. We would pack their lunches along with them to eat at the pool. This led to a whole plethora of new logistics to figure out!

For breakfast, we pulled out more of the fluffy, fresh blueberry scones from Crumbs Bakery, and got to work making smoothies. Smoothies were a big hit last time, and Crystal from KoC provided us with disposable cups with lids - sometimes on a field trip, there are more important things than "zero waste"! We blended together organic vanilla yogurt with plenty of fruit juice and creamy Snowville milk with a whole rainbow of fruits we'd frozen over the past few weeks - peaches, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, even grapes! With serving help from the KoC VISTAs, we handed off these smoothies and a fresh scone to each student, eagerly anticipating their swim day, and off the buses went! The night before, Erin and Crystal (we divided forces - half worked late Thursday and half came in on Friday) made 65 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Crumbs honey-wheat bread to stuff in brown bags. Thursday morning, Team 1 helped assemble the other components of the lunch - applesauce cups, carrots, and homemade tortilla chips for all. We piled the lunches into a cooler, stuffed an insulated bag with several half-gallons of milk, and toted the whole lot to a waiting SUV to be fed to kids with appetites worked up by swimming!

What a perfect way to spend a hot day, and a wonderful way to start off the weekend.

Rising dough, raising vegetables

Just like always, we had some fantastic meals this week. On Tuesday, Team 3 rolled out dough for cinnamon rolls, and filled the sweet yeasty dough with a mixture of cinnamon, sugar, and butter. And was this just any old butter? No! This was butter that the kids themselves had made only moments before by shaking Snowville heavy whipping cream in little glass jars; after only a few minutes of agitation, the buttermilk began to separate, leaving chunks of yellow butter in each jar! They spread the butter on the dough, sprinkling it with sugar before rolling them up tight and leaving them for the morning, when we baked them until golden brown. What sweet smells filled our hallway Wednesday morning! We served the rolls with fresh peaches from a seemingly unending supply. Oh, July, bring it on!

After that successfully yummy morning, Wednesday continued rolling merrily along. We had a busy day in the kitchen, as Team 2 also helped make butter, began to mix dough for biscuits for Thursday's breakfast, and helped us get ready for lunch by cheerily chopping squash and grating cheese. Lunch Thursday? Oven-baked quesadillas, stuffed with two kinds of cheese and a savory black bean mixture. The squash we coated in a basic blend of spices, olive oil, and roasted nuts (which add a pleasing texture as well as packing a protein punch!) and served alongside the gooey quesadillas. We are once again flush with corn, which is always a popular side and finished the meal nicely.

Thursday's breakfast was another big hit, and another making its debut appearance on our menu. Fluffy biscuits were topped with soysage gravy - yes, you read that right, no sausage gravy for us this summer, but you wouldn't believe the things they can do with vegetable protein these days! Personally, I try not to mold my diet around premade meat substitutes, but the product we chose (called GimmeLean! and available in the same iconic tube as Jimmy Dean) is made of quality ingredients - and most important, it's tasty, full of protein, and the kids loved it, especially after it was simmered in a classic, creamy gravy. We continue to be up to our ears in fresh produce, and were able to give each student a plum and a juicy chunk of watermelon with their breakfast. Watermelon with breakfast, you say? Sure, it goes a little beyond tradition - but, hey, it's summer!

Speaking of tradition, Thursday's lunch is somewhat of a tradition, and depending on what area of Ohio or the Midwest you live in, you might have a different traditional name for it. We cooked up a huge pot of chili (I've been asked, "What do you put in chili if you don't put meat in it?" Answer: "Everything!"), filled with fresh vegetables and two kinds of beans, then served it over spaghetti noodles, and topped with cheese. In reference to the famous Cincinnati style, many around here call this Skyline Spaghetti, while I've heard folks in other places call it "sketty red" - and I'm sure, dear reader, that you may have your own name for it. Many people have never heard of topping spaghetti with chili, and many others know no other way of eating chili. I apologize for this tangent, but isn't culinary culture fascinating? To go with the Skyline Spaghetti, we breaded some zucchini fresh from the school garden (which is becoming more and more plentiful) and fried 'em up (in the oven, that is), and served them next to the ubiquitous slices of peaches and watermelon.

Speaking of the garden, Thursday in class Team 1 learned how to make kale chips, tearing this leafy green fresh from the school garden and tossing it in light spices before putting it in the oven, where they crisped up nicely and the students were able to enjoy a snack before washing the lunchtime dishes, a task which they did a wonderful job of!

It seems like the more food we serve, the more the kids eat, and that is fantastic. More and more students are returning for second helpings, and we're getting more hugs in the lunch line from younger students. It's hard to believe there's only one week left!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wacky Week 4, already!

Week four of the summer program is now upon us, and with it, summer's bounty is flourishing. The combination of these two occurrences means one thing: the food just keeps getting better and better! Produce has been abundant at the Farmers' Market and Donation Station, local farm stands, and the Chesterhill Produce auction!

This week is also spirit week at Kids on Campus. Yesterday was Crazy Hair Day; regretfully, I got no photos of anyone's crazy hairdos. Today was Wacky Day, and I saw some certainly silly ensembles!

Now that summer's harvest has begun to pick up, our plates are getting fuller and fuller. Yesterday, we served up hearty bowls of tomato soup, made with a combination of fresh tomatoes and last summer's canned tomatoes graciously donated by CFI's Ronda Clark. Ronda, along with many others at CFI and elsewhere, has been a tireless advocate for this program of real foods, and we owe a lot this summer to her efforts.... and now her tomatoes! Thanks, Ronda!

And what's tomato soup without grilled cheese? Luckily, we had whole-wheat bread from Crumbs Bakery, topped with cheese shredded by the kids, and paired with hard-boiled farm-fresh eggs and a slice of juicy watermelon. The most exciting thing about this is that the kids are coming back for seconds more and more!

Both breakfasts this week were repeats: yesterday, we served the ever-popular (SpongeBob) Squarecakes, made with spelt flour and topped with fresh berry syrup, and this morning, we had our Great Grains granola again, made with popped amaranth and served with a fresh plum. Again, I will express how lucky we are to have such abundant fruit right now - the students are eating just as much as we can give 'em!

Today, Tuesday, was a busy day in the kitchen. Lunch was a wacky monster's feast that took the whole morning to prepare (a few of the kitchen crew even had to hang back during breakfast to get started! what troopers!). The main dish, Monster's Mash-up, resembled meat loaf and was composed of savory brown lentils cooked with onions, carrots, potatoes, and spices, and layered with plenty of gooey cheese before being baked all morning - what great smells filled our kitchen! The kids chopped potatoes, green beans, and cucumbers for the sides - yes, we were fortunate to have three vegetable sides today, in the form of smashed potatoes, steamed green beans, and cucumber salad. Erin prepared a simple, fresh, delicious gravy to top it all off. The cafeteria was full of wild enthusiasm, and like yesterday, many kids came back for seconds.

While all of this was being prepared, Cindy and Dane also had time to work on several lessons with Team 3, the group we had today, discussing which nutrients can be found in which vegetables, and learning about eating a rainbow of foods. To further emphasize the importance (and deliciousness!) of including an array of fruits and veggies, Cindy whipped up green smoothies for the kids. Yum! Later, while pots of potatoes and beans simmered on the stove, our energetic bunch of 5th-6th graders helped roll out cinnamon rolls, which we'll bake fresh in the morning for breakfast! I can't wait!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Salad bar on a plate

We had a great time Wednesday and Thursday making lunch with the kids. Because more students have been joining the program (yay!), the groups have been shifting a little, so every day it seems like we are meeting new kids and working with them in new ways.

Lunch Wednesday was a menu perfectly suited to getting lots of help from the kids - salad bar on a plate. When we had salad the first week, the kids enjoyed it, but we decided it would be more appealing to have all of the ingredients arranged separately on the plate. Team 2 got to work shredding cheese, chopping cucumbers, and prepping the lettuce. We tossed the leafy Romaine in a huge red dish with plenty of red cabbage, some kale, and some sunflower sprouts from Green Edge Gardens, as well as some carrots chopped by the group we had the day before.

Cindy and Dane have been continuing to work with the students on appropriate kitchen skills, like knife safety and sanitation (check out the fine form shown by a 4th-grader in this picture!). This week, they also taught lessons about ingredients and nutrition labels, discussing the ever-changing food pyramid (which is now actually a plate?). As the kids grow more familiar with us, each other, and the camp, they are beginning to absorb this information! We're certainly operating in terms of baby steps, but they are fantastic and rewarding steps nonetheless.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fun days in the kitchen

Week 3 of the Kids on Campus summer program (I know - I can't believe it's been three weeks already, either!) started off slow, but by the end we were really in the groove.

The meals were planned on a 10-day rotation, similar to how the school-year breakfast & lunch system works, so by this week we began to repeat a few food items. I think that this made life easier for everyone - as a kitchen staff, and for the students helping us, there was a greater level of confidence in the food we prepared. Additionally, new foods seem slightly less daunting the second time around. Overall, I feel like a LOT more food has been consumed this week.

Just as did the first Monday of camp, this Monday started out with a breakfast of creamy oatmeal. This time, we stirred in plenty of local honey and maple syrup and a touch of cinnamon. It's topped with a generous portion of stewed fruit made with peaches and currants. We have been getting what seems like a neverending supply of peaches from the Donation Station! We are so lucky!

Frittata: A fancy way to say "cheesy eggs with veggies." With the help of Team 4, we made frittata on Monday for the second time this summer. Sauteed onions and garlic were layered in with copious, fresh, almost fluffy kale and chard, along with cheese and an egg mixture. We set up an assembly line, and the kids helped us assemble it.

Weather-wise, this has been an abnormal year here in southeast Ohio. Spring rains seemed to stretch on for eons, delaying planting and early harvests, and now that summer has come, it has come with a vengeance and we are now experiencing continuous hotter temperatures. This has affected our menu at the camp, because we are so focused on getting food that is available fresh locally - which translates to whatever's in season, and this year, it hasn't always been what we might have expected for that point in the summer. We have been lucky enough to use exclusively local, cage free eggs in our kitchen, but this past week it became increasingly difficult to find such eggs. It has been so hot that nobody's hens are laying! So, we have had to "scramble" to switch around the menus. The kids love egg-based dishes, so luckily by week's end we were able to come up with a new source for eggs.

Speaking of eggs. . . what's next for breakfast? Tuesday's breakfast this week was French toast! We received an ample supply of donated honey-wheat bread from Crumbs bakery - perfect for drenching in batter, baking in the oven, then slathering with fresh blueberry syrup! The kids were thrilled to have French toast sticks, and we were thrilled that yes, in fact, you CAN make French toast in the oven! Syrup made that morning from fresh blueberries certainly didn't hurt, either.

The students' glee continued Tuesday afternoon as we served macaroni & cheese for a second time, as well. Cindy's trick for the mac & cheese still works well; we baked three sweet potatoes and blended them up into a creamy sauce with the cheese and milk, turning it a beautiful orange hue - and nobody was any the wiser (til now! oops!). Sweet potatoes lend a great, well, sweetness to the dish, and I love how easily they blend into pretty much anything you'd like.

After a weekend away, where everyone (students and leaders alike!) experienced a variety of distractions, it was a little difficult to drum up enthusiasm for the meals. Especially since I only see the majority of the kids at mealtimes, I struggle to find ways to connect with them, other than dancing around like a maniac and enthusiastically shrieking about how exciting it is that we are having oatmeal for breakfast! We are all so busy during the mealtimes, and we have all been trying a little harder to really connect with the kids. This week, we improved on that a lot and at every meal at least one or two of us VISTAs was able to sit down at a table and eat with the kids.

This post is long enough, so I'm going to sign off for the moment, and when I return, I'll update on the absolutely terrific, action-packed days we had to finish out the week! Happy Friday!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Friday, July 8

Step 1 for making a delicious breakfast: Make crepes. Step 2: Stuff with peanut butter and bananas. Step 3: Roll up and enjoy!

That's what we did for breakfast on Friday, and it was fairly popular, although crepes are a relatively new idea for most people - myself included. But we just presented them as thin pancakes, and it was the first time we had peanut butter so I think the kids were excited about that!

Lunch Friday was even more exciting - open-face grilled cheese + veggie sandwiches. For cooking time that day we were with Team 2, which consists mostly of students in grades 4-6 or thereabouts, and they were able to enthusiastically prepare and assemble the sandwiches.

First, they helped us roughly chop Swiss chard, which formed the first layer of the sandwiches. Next came shredded carrots, which Team 3 had helped us with the day before. Then, each sandwich got a thin slice of fresh tomato before being topped with a generous handful of grated cheese. We baked them in the oven 'til they got all bubbly, and served them with a roasted zucchini & nut salad. The kids helped chop all that zucchini, too! It was one of our more popular vegetable sides so far.

One of my favorite things about this lunch was how easy it was for the kids to help make it. Some of our meals so far, delicious though they were, were labor-intensive or put us in such a time crunch that it's sometimes difficult to figure out how to let the kids lend a hand. Some days we feel like we're on one of those TV game shows like "Iron Chef," scrambling to plate the meal before a buzzer goes off!! As time has passed, though, and we have gotten more comfortable as a team, it's been easier to let the kids help out. Monday of this week we made frittatas for the second time, and the kids did a lot more of the work this time around... but that is a post for another day!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Week 2 breezes by!

Because the 4th of July fell on a Monday this year, our program took an extra-long weekend for the holiday. Along with the Monday off, Kids on Campus also took a hiatus on Tuesday. This means we only have the kids for three days this week! And what a busy three days they have been!

Wednesday morning started off with a chewy homemade granola bar, served up with fresh apple slices. Filled with fiber-rich whole-grain oats, sweet local honey, and dried currants, these granola bars more resembled a tasty, nutritious cookie, and what a fantastic way to start the week!

Many people have been asking us if we have a menu that we can provide. We are very fortunate to receive a large percentage of our food supplies from sources like the Donation Station at the Athens Farmers Market and the Chesterhill Produce Auction. The nature of these places is that what is most amply available is that produce which is directly in season. Sometimes, we plan a meal for one fruit or vegetable (say, zucchini) but instead get a bushel of something else (say, corn) through a donation - we then adjust our schedule accordingly.

This is exactly what happened yesterday! We showed up Wednesday morning with an enormous bag in tow containing 75 ears of corn, fresh from a local farmer at the Chesterhill Produce Auction! Lunch on Wednesday was "Happy Cow Burgers," a black bean patty mixed with other fresh veggies and savory spices and served on a Crumbs honey-wheat sandwich bun. Originally, we had planned to make oven potato fries with them, but who can turn down farm-fresh corn in July? The kids loved it too, and many were begging for seconds (luckily, we had ears of corn coming out our, well, ears!). We're also continuing to get feedback and refine our recipes, so I think things will just get better and better!

Although us VISTAs and our KoC leaders have been busy bees in the kitchen, don't worry - we've been putting the kids to work, also! Two groups helped us roll out tortillas this week, and Team 3 almost singlehandedly made today's carrot salad that we served with lunch. Every team has also been enthusiastic helpers after lunch in the kitchen, doing dishes, sweeping, and scrubbing - all things that are very important for keeping a kitchen functional!

This morning's breakfast was a new item, so the students had to be slightly more adventurous than usual, but I'm happy to say most of them rose to the challenge! Dubbed Three Bears Porridge, this dish centered on locally-grown spelt berries. Spelt berries, similar to wheat berries, are the fresh kernel of the grain, which once dried can be ground into flour. If you cook it, though, similarly to how you would cook rice or any other grain, it plumps up and can be used in any number of dishes! I have used spelt berries in savory dishes, or in place of rice in a dinner dish, but this morning we simmered it in apple juice and mixed in plenty of local honey & maple syrup, and 30 cups of fresh berries and fruit. Thanks to generous farmers at the farmers market, we had a rainbow of blueberries and peaches awaiting us this morning!

For lunch today, we stuffed homemade tortillas (made in part with whole-spelt flour) with a savory mixture of black beans, corn, rice, and salsa, finished off with a healthy amount of cheese and mixed greens, and baked them until they were warm and toasty all over. I had a chance during what is usually a hectic lunch hour to sit and talk with some of the kids while they were eating, and I really enjoyed that.

Overall, we continue to be impressed with the campers' collective interest in what we're eating and enthusiasm for being involved in the process. However, I am certainly open to suggestions for any more creative ways to liven up the food and make it the presentation more engaging and interesting to the kids while also being educational.

I'm excited for tomorrow's breakfast and lunch - I think that both will be very popular. I won't divulge too much, but breakfast involves peanut butter and lunch involves melty cheese! Who could argue with that?

(Here are a few links to other things to do with spelt berries:
Carrot Raisin Spelt Berry Salad with Cumin and Cilantro
Apple and Spelt Berry Salad

I'll post our spelt berry recipe as soon as I get my hands on it!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fed Hock in the News

In today's Athens News, our program at Fed Hock received positive press - twice in one issue!

A small feature article in the Local News section reported on the camp, interviewing our Kids on Campus site director Crystal Smith and a few campers. The article explains how KoC works, and shines a favorable light on the work we're doing out there.

The reporter visited the school during last Friday's fun field day. The article mentions our emphasis on a local, fresh, plant-based diet and the importance of the lessons learned within.

"It may be surprising to hear that the kids at KoC enjoy eating vegetables. When asked if she thought eating healthily was fun, camper Johanna replied, 'Yeah, because you don't really do anything when you eat healthy but get strong.' "

I'm so glad that they quoted a few students in the article, as I can't say enough times how it really is about the kids, and so far it has been utterly rewarding to see how they are already learning and growing!

Read the whole article here.

Even more exciting was a letter to the editor in the same edition, written by our U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, who is already well-known for being a champion for our cause, supporting food-security organizations throughout the state. His letter (text here) encourages farmers to donate to the summer food programs, and provides some basic facts as well as contact information.

It's so wonderful to feel such support coming from all directions. Thanks, Sherrod Brown, and to the Athens News for featuring us! Now it's just up to us - onward to another busy, productive week!

(Thanks to the A-News for the top photo)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Week 1 is in the (reusable) bag!

Yes, I can scarcely believe it, but the first week of the summer program is already well behind us! The week wrapped up with a warm, sunny Friday that the kids spent having a fun Field Day outdoors at the school. The program is set up so that each Friday is a field trip or other fun activity, so no curriculum (other than, of course, the education gained from positive, fun activities).

While the students splashed around outside, we stayed busy in the kitchen. Our Friday meals are all planned to be easily taken in a to-go format - no messy frittatas or stir-fries today. On the menu this week were Veggie Roll-ups, fresh flour tortillas into which we put a medley of vegetables, fresh Romaine lettuce, cucumbers, grated cheese, and a creamy all-natural dressing. We tossed in a few baby carrots for good measure and an applesauce cup into each student's brown bag.

This setup, of course, posed some environmental questions. A main goal of this camp is Zero Waste! (if you say it aloud, you will realize it's a double entendre) and so far we have been succeeding with flying colors. At each meal, we have a system of many tubs set up, where students dispose of any uneaten food, mugs, plates, silverware, etc. On Friday, we added a few extra bins, leaving one for paper bags, for applesauce cups, and on down, so again, there was very little actual trash left at the end of the meal. We suspect some staff member will be able to find an art project to do with the applesauce cups, and we'll reuse the brown bags next week.

The morning started out with a bangin' success, as well. On the menu for breakfast: fresh fruit smoothies and whole-grain muffins made with locally-milled spelt flour (more about that in a future post), currants, and walnuts. Many of the kids were initially unimpressed by the word "smoothie," but nearly everybody drank down the entire thing - and who wouldn't? Erin, another VISTA, blended together frozen bananas with organic yogurt, Snowville milk, and plenty of peaches and blueberries - most of which we received as donations at the farmers' market through CFI's Donation Station.

All in all, it was a busy yet extremely rewarding week. It was amazing to watch as, each day, the kids grew more and more comfortable with being at the camp and the things they were learning. It was quite a remarkable journey from the first morning, where very few of the campers finished their oatmeal, let alone tried it, to the last, where only four children did not finish their muffins, and everyone tried a taste. I nearly jumped for joy! It has also been marvelous to watch them in the kitchen; they are enthusiastic about it all, even (or especially!) washing dishes! I hope that next week, they will get to be involved even more with the food preparation, as we can really see the positive effects of engaging them in the food-prep process. The students' eyes twinkle when I announce who helped make which components of the meal. We're giving them ownership over their food. It's the first step, at least!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Rainbow of Food

We have had a busy few days out at Fed Hock! The kids have been doing a great job learning about cooking, kitchen rules, composting, and so much more. We have been throwing new foods at them as fast as they can turn around, and the response has been excellent. We've begun rewarding students for trying new foods and for cleaning their plates at each meal - and the amount of food tossed out decreases every mealtime. Yesterday for breakfast we had homemade granola made with toasted locally-grown amaranth, topped with fresh blueberries, apples, and dried fruit. Yummm!

Each day, we get a different group of students in our nutrition room. Cindy and Dane teach them some basic kitchen safety skills, and they get to practice chopping! Many of the vegetables served are prepped by students as young as 1st and 2nd grade. After the meal, they help with doing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. We appreciate their help, and they have a great time! In the picture to the right, a rainbow of veggies cook away in an Asian-inspired veggie + marinated tofu stir-fry we cooked up for lunch today, complete with rice, a cucumber salad, and, of course, plenty of sizzling skillets!

Cindy has a "No-Yuck" rule, and a brightly colored poster emblazoned with that message adorns the wall in the cafeteria behind our serving table. And it works! Naturally, we are so very fortunate to have food that is tasty, nutritious, and not yucky at all, but enthusiasm among the kids has been growing. Yesterday for lunch we had frittatas made with farm-fresh eggs, jack cheese, and Swiss chard, and it was one of our most popular lunches yet! Served up with a Crumbs Bakery roll and a mess of fresh coleslaw (another rainbow of green & purple cabbage, orange carrots, and red apples, with homemade dressing), it was a great meal. Fed Hock Superintendent Dr. Wood even made a special appearance to try some! And we couldn't have made that mountain of coleslaw without the help of our students, who chopped, shredded, and stirred.

Tomorrow the students are having a Field Day, but we will all be there bright and early for a tasty breakfast of freshly-baked muffins. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Scones, salad, and so much more!

There were two scones baking in the oven. One scone turns to the other and says, "Man! It is getting hot in here!" The second scone says, "Oh my goodness! A talking scone!"

That's the joke I told at breakfast this morning, right before we served up plates of cheesy scrambled eggs (made with local Athens eggs, Snowville milk, and Walnut Creek Amish cheddar cheese) paired with blueberry scones from Crumbs Bakery.

Today we established a Clean Plate Club, which provides enthusiastic encouragement for the students to finish all of their food - and, indeed, today the pile of food scraps after meals was much smaller. We are lucky to be able to turn almost all of our food scraps for the summer into compost for the garden! This helps us achieve our camp goal of zero waste.

We also are providing fun incentives for the kids to try something new at every meal, and in general today, the mood at mealtimes was jovial.

We had a group of 5th-6th graders for two full hours in the kitchen with us this morning, and after a lesson on safety and sanitation, they got to work, rolling out breadsticks, shredding cabbage, chopping carrots and grating 4 pounds of cheese for the day's lunch, shared by all the students!

All of us who work in the kitchen can scarcely believe it has only been two days; we have squeezed so much energy and activity into those two days it feels like it has certainly been more.

Tomorrow there will be more hustle & bustle, and with each day I hope that the kids will be able to assist more and more with the food prep - and I definitely hope to see more members of the Clean Plate Club!