Monday, August 30, 2010

Reflections of a TGF Program Leader

The Teens Grow Food pilot program was a great success. All the teens came into the program knowing little or nothing about gardening, and they left with the skills, knowledge, and context to start their own gardens—along with the basics of cooking their future produce. In addition to becoming budding farmers, the teens learned about the importance of food justice and hunger relief in their community, and the multiple, creative ways to make that possible. As one crew worker remarked, “I didn’t know how much food could come out of so little space.”

One teen said, “My perception on food has changed after seeing the tremendous amount of effort used to grow a single plant.” Another testified, “I perceive myself as a much more efficient food grower. After only 4 weeks I feel so much more comfortable in the garden. I can make more independent decisions without hesitating, like pulling out suckers, harvesting crops or even just distinguishing weeds from food.” Thanks to Teens Grow Food, Pema Doma, Dexter Jean, and Jamie Yu now have the tools and knowledge they need to become leaders in Brookline farming. They each were mature, articulate, and excited about farming; it was a pleasure to lead the crew. Thanks also to everyone who made this program possible—to Cathy Neal and Jenny LaVigne, and to all of the generous gardeners around Brookline who opened their spaces for us learn from.

In the future, we hope to expand the program to allow more crew members and a longer program working on more sites in Brookline. This additional time and crew size will allow the teens to learn more leadership skills, get more context for our work through tours and workshops, and to grow personally. Some of the teens will be staying on in the fall as outreach or gardening interns, and we will be starting an internship program next summer. This will expand our abilities to serve more youth at multiple levels of food systems work and activism. This summer was a great start, and we look forward to Teens Grow Food times three next year!

Our cooking program educated both our teens and food-pantry-goers about new ways to cook cheaply and healthily--while using in-season vegetables. We provided Ziploc-container tastings of two different meals along with a recipe over the course of our four-week-long program. Food Pantry volunteers say our samples were quite popular!

Here's the recipes of our meal samples if you want to try them at home. Feel free to add or subtract vegetables as available in your own pantry.

Roasted Couscous with Summer Vegetables
Serves 4.

1 summer squash or zucchini, cut into 1-cm cubed blocks
1-2 tomatoes, also cubed
beet greens, Swiss chard, or collards, cut into thin strips
1 beet, finely diced
2 carrots, cut into thin rounds
2-3 small onions, cut into 1-cm square blocks.
A few sprigs
2 cloves garlic
1 TB turmeric
1/2 TB cinnamon
1 TB cumin
1 TB coriander
1 TB lemon juice (if desired)
a pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups couscous (dry)
2 cups water

Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, roast couscous for five minutes, and put onions and garlic in a separate pan to soften. After five minutes, remove couscous from heat. When the water has boiled, add it to the couscous, and cover until the couscous is cooked. Add carrots, beets, and spices to onions and garlic. Add squash, tomatoes, and parsley after a few minutes. Then add the cooked couscous and leafy greens of your choice. Sautee for a few more minutes, then serve.

Lentils with Brown Rice, Tomatoes, Carrots and Leafy Greens
Serves 4.

2 large, fresh tomatoes, cut into sticks
A few leaves of Swiss chard or beet greens, cut into thin strips
2 carrots
1 medium-sized onion
2 cups cooked red lentils
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 clove garlic
3/4 inch fresh ginger
1 TB cumin
1/2 TB cinnamon
1 tsp coriander
salt and pepper to taste

Sautee onions, garlic and ginger until onions are soft. Add carrots and spices and wait until the carrots soften. Then add tomatoes. Add leafy greens when tomatoes are almost cooked. Mix vegetables with lentils and rice and serve.

I hope you enjoy the recipes. Here's to a great first season of Teens Grow Food!

--Marianna Ballou
Program Leader, Teens Grow Food