A Farm to Table Education Program
“We call ourselves delicious nutrition educators,” says Laura Stanley, Executive Director of the Sylvia Center, a farm-to-table education program. “We use a farmed table, a garden table. Our orientation is pleasure, to see, taste, and understand how delicious good food can be.”
The need for such education is clear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, warning of prevalent childhood obesity, states “schools provide an ideal setting for … implementing innovative programs that focus on improving ... nutrition …”
With that agenda on her plate, Ms. Stanley continues “We regard all children as being in need of good food, but we focus on neighborhoods where childhood obesity is epidemic. We set up a kitchen in Soho for kids who are learning to cook; there are no open flames, it’s very safe, intimate. There are pictures of our farm all around and we talk about the farm.
We get school, after school, and summer camp groups. We’ve teamed up with Big Brothers, New York Cares, and other organizations. Award-winning cookbook author Corinne Trang, designed two curriculums for us: Healthy Snacks and World Food. Both use simple, seasonal, whole, organic foods.
It’s all hands on. A typical dessert this time of year is roasted pear. We brush it with oil and put it to roast. It carmelizes, so the natural sugars come out and it tastes great. For high school groups, we’ve made mayonnaise. Kids go home with foods and recipes that are easy. We don’t go after the expensive or the esoteric - this is meant to be for everybody.”
Liz Neumark, founder of Great Performances, caterers for Sotheby’s and Jazz at Lincoln Center, among others, founded the Sylvia Center. Ms. Stanley says “After many years of serving the privileged, she turned her attention to feeding other people, and since she’s a mom she founded the Sylvia Center,” says. “We’re housed at their office in Soho and on their Katchkie Farm, in Kinderhook.
At Katchkie Farm, children get the added attraction of chickens, rabbits, pigs and ducks. “It’s scheduled for 3 hours, but we only book one group a day, so they can stay as long as they want,” says Ms. Stanley “They have the full garden to table experience. We start on the farm; they plant, harvest, and pick and eat right off the vine. When things don’t look the same as they do in a supermarket, there’s an “ah ha!”moment. For example, a girl pulled up a carrot that grew around a rock, so it was twisted; now she understands that a carrot is a root. From stuff they’ve harvested we make soups and salads. In good weather, we have a camp (outdoor) kitchen. After lunch, we take our waste and we compost. So, we plant, harvest, cook, eat, and then feed the garden.
Then, they visit with our chickens. Some kids are terrified; we have to hold some of the little kids. They harvest the eggs which are still warm from the chickens. Afterwards, kids who can stay longer go on our hiking trails.”
For those who can’t go to Soho or Kinderhook, there is Sylvia’s Center in the Classroom, a multi session workshop series. “It takes our kitchen curriculum and moves it into the school; so we’ll work in the school kitchen, or classrooms and kids go home with letters and recipes, also translated into Spanish. If a school is growing any food we incorporate that, if not we find a nearby community garden, or take kids to a nearby farmer’s market. We find some way to connect cooking with the farm.”#