Where does your food come from?

From seasonal restaurant menus and community support agriculture to urban beekeeping and action to combat food deserts, there's been a renewed interest in food in recent years. Where does our food come from? What it's made of? How is it prepared? What does it take to get from field to plate?

At The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, educators are inviting students to work with food grown in the Museum’s five on-site and community gardens, teaching them about cultivation and cooking, from floral arranging to recipe writing.

“We hope to inspire youth to become more interested in nature in a tangible way,” said Kimberly Bracken, Community Programs Manager of The Children’s Museum.

The Youth Cook program offers monthly, hands-on seasonal cooking workshops for middle and high school students, targeting youth from the North Side as well as the general Pittsburgh region. Using food harvested from the Museum’s five gardens, youth learn to cook accessible, healthy recipes.

Ella Conti, a 10-year old student at Woodland Hills Academy, participated in a Youth Cook cooking program where they made pizza with dough from scratch. They were even able to cut their own veggies. “My favorite part was eating the food!” said Ella.

Last month, they made sweet and savory quesadillas from scratch with Leah Lizarondo of Brazen Kitchen. On March 27, Chef Stephen Thompson of Bluebird Kitchen will teach them how to roll and cut pasta, form meatballs, and craft a delicious marinara sauce, again all from scratch. On April 24, Chef Maa-t of Ujamaa Collective will instruct the youth on how to create impressive buckwheat-banana pancakes. They will mix and pour their own pancakes, and chop a variety of fruits and nuts as mix-ins and toppings. On May 29, Guest Chef Jeanette Harris of Gluten Free Goat will teach them how to prepare and cook quinoa fritters, with a special from-scratch dipping sauce. These programs are held on Fridays after the Museum closes from 5-7pm.

The Youth Grow program’s goal is to gain youth’s interest in plants, by showing them various things that plants can do. Last week, they were able to tie dye t-shirts using onion peels, indigo, and blackberries. On March 21, Natasha Dean of Shadyside Nursery will guide the youth in making their own mini-terrarium. Soil, miniature terrarium plant, glass jar, and other materials will be provided. On April 4, Jim Tunney of Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club will lead them in creating their very own kit to grow oyster mushrooms at home. They will explore different kinds of local mushrooms, learn how they grow, and participate in inoculating logs with two kinds of edible mushrooms, Shiitake and Oyster for the Museum’s on-site gardens. Workshops are seasonally-themed, and others include having the children creating their own edible herb planter on May 2; observing a live bee hive, playing with beeswax, and doing a honey tasting with Burgh Bees member Joe Zgurzynski of Country Barn Farm on June 13, and building a bug mansion with Grow Pittsburgh to provide homes for pollinators on July 18. Other future seasonal activities may include papermaking and wreath making in the fall and winter, and leaf and flower presses and bouquet making in spring and summer. These programs are held on Saturdays from 10:30am-12pm in the Museum Gardens or MAKESHOP™ section of the Museum, depending on the activity. MAKESHOP™ is a space for youth and families to make, play, and design using “real stuff”— the same materials, tools, and processes used by professional artists, builders, programmers, and creators of all kinds.

The third program, Tripoli Street Garden Nights/Days, provides opportunities for youth to volunteer at the Museum’s largest garden, a quarter acre lot on Tripoli Street, on the North Side, named Food City by the teens who created it. The weekly day and evening gardening experiences will include planting, tending, and harvesting, with a focus on permaculture and sustainable practices This training program empowers local youth with a variety of gardening and career skills. A variety of trees are planted in the garden, as well as edible and medicinal herbs and perennial flowers, and vegetables including: corn, beans, ground cherries, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, squash, zinnias, basil, parsley and okra. The program is open to both North Side youth and youth from throughout the Pittsburgh region, as well as North Side families and neighbors. A schedule of volunteer opportunities open to the public will be posted on Food City’s Facebook page at facebook.com/foodcitypgh. Organizations that run afterschool or summer programs are also invited to arrange programming or field trips to Food City.

Food City Fellows, another part of Food City, is an 8-week summer program for highschool teens to develop a sense of the importance of food and how it impacts community, and give them the tools to lead a healthy lifestyle. The Children’s Museum and the Food City project have recently partnered with Neu Kirche Contemporary Arts Center to establish Neu City, an annual public art initiative. Beginning in Spring 2015, Neu City will merge urban farming from Food City with contemporary art practices to promote sustainability and community interaction.

Youth Cook and Grow are for youth ages 10 and up, and Tripoli Street Garden Nights/Days and Neu City is for all ages. If you know anyone who may be interested in any of these programs, and would like more information, you may contact Kimberly Bracken at kbracken@pittsburghkids.org to learn more, or to be added to the Museum’s 10+ email list.

Together, these three programs give youth on the North Side an opportunity to learn about where their food comes from and how they can make more informed decisions about the things they cook and eat.

Published March 23, 2015