Gardening and Cooking with Kids

By Carolina Lukac
Gardens for Learning Statewide Coordinator

This summer, I have been visiting Gardens For Learning sites all over the state to observe and participate in their activities, check in with Site Coordinators and review grant requirements. But above all, the visits give an opportunity to share and learn about successful hands-on gardening and cooking activities designed for youth at risk of summertime hunger.

Here are a few highlights from the visits:

  • GFL-Richford-Preparing zucchini humusAt the Richford Health Center, Site Coordinator Melissa encouraged children to creatively use zucchini in unusual recipes. Children participated in all steps of harvesting, cleaning, chopping, measuring, and taste testing zucchini hummus (using zucchini flesh to replace chickpeas) and summer squash crumble (Melissa played a fun guessing game to discover the hidden vegetable ingredient in a sweet dessert).  Needless to say, the children immensely enjoyed both activities. I witnessed two young boys licking the spatula used to serve the crumble and a girl desperately trying to find a reusable container to take home hummus.
    GFL-StJohnsbury-Making faces at unusual lettuce plant
  • Children participating in the summer program at Green Acres Apartments surprised me with their knowledge on herbs and ability to identify them in the garden. They showed me the “lollypop plant” (aka stevia) and shared a leaf to sweeten a glass of lavender lemonade.
  • At the St Johnsbury School, children practiced knife-cutting skills by slicing strawberries and bananas that were going into a yogurt smoothie. While children were busy focusing on keeping their fingers in a claw gesture to avoid slicing off the tip of their fingers, Site Coordinator Beth was de-stemming kale leaves and sneaking them into the smoothie for added nutrition.
  • At the Upper Valley Haven, I was invited to lead a lesson on how to make strawberry jam. We practiced our math skills calculating how much pectin and sugar to add to the strawberries, and also practiced patience while stirring the jam. We enjoyed watching the strawberry mush boil up like lava and above all, children were thrilled to take home a jar of homemade strawberry jam and listen to the “pop” of the top as the jar cooled and sealed.
  • GFL-BandGRutland-Seed garden artChristine, the Site Coordinator at the Boys and Girls Club of Rutland, invited me to create a garden art piece by using a vintage tray, old seeds, wooden cutting board scraps, and Elmer’s glue. Youth were inspired to design a seed display of different vegetable and flower varieties.  The final product was a beautiful educational material to explore the diversity of seeds!
    GFL-Highgate-Boy chopping for rainbow salsa
  • A colorful and nutritious rainbow salsa was collectively made at Highgate Apartments by chopping up watermelon, orange bell pepper, mango, cilantro, and cucumber. Children dipped blue and yellow corn chips into the rainbow salsa as they calmly settled down during story time in the garden.

Next up on the site visit tour are two early childhood care centers – the Family Center of Washington County and the Orange County Parent Child Center – and the Highgate Public Library.

Click here to learn more about Gardens For Learning.