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

Friday, August 13, 2010

Blog Post from a TGF teen

Jamie Yu wrote this post right after the first week in the program:

This week was the first week of the Bountiful Brookline Teens Grow Food pilot program. I was one of the three chosen to be in the program, and since it was the first week, I didn’t know what to expect! My name is Jamie, and I’m going to be a freshman at Brookline High School this fall. I really wanted the spot in this program because I got to help shape it, work with a garden, and help the community. When I was accepted in to the program, I was excited, and also ready for the challenge of waking up early in the morning on the days I had work. On Monday, I met the two other people I would work with, along with our leader. We started off with a tour of the garden. I was immediately interested and wanted to harvest some of the plants already. First we worked with compost. We had to clear out two bins of old compost, so we could add in fresh compost bought from another farm. While we worked on this, we encountered 3 red unusual-looking spiders, which I had never seen in my life. Working on this also included the four of us getting our hands dirty and our nails caked with mud. Usually I don’t like working with dirt and soil, but after seeing what we had accomplished, I knew that working with compost, spiders, and other unexpected bugs was a small price to pay. We also planted a whole bed of eggplants, and it was great to see the plants saved. The next day included our first harvest, where we picked scallions, carrots, tomatoes, and some herbs to bring to the food pantry. We also worked on a sign we would post in front of the building on Webster Place, to inform others who passed by about the Teens Grow Food program. My favorite day was on Thursday, when we picked some plants from the garden, and cooked a dish for the food pantry – Couscous with summer squashes, red beets, and other vegetables and herbs. This was a lot of work, and a challenge. One of the other teens doing the program named Pema, and I were under 16, so we weren’t allowed to work with knives. This left Marianna and Dexter, another teen in the program, to do the cutting, while Pema and I cooked in the kitchen. I didn’t know how the end result would be, because I had never had a dish like this. I also didn’t know many of the ingredients that we put in, but when I tasted the dish in the end, I was surprised at how good it was. It also felt good to donate so much food to the pantry, and to see all our hard work go to a good cause. Within the first week, I already did a lot of things that I really liked, such as planting new plants, harvesting vegetables, and cooking! I also got to learn a lot in the workshop we had about the differences between fresh local food versus industrial grown food. Even though it has only been the first week of the program, I can’t wait to get back to work on Monday.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Teens Grow Food Program: Beyond the Halfway Point

Teens Grow Food discusses their front garden sign.

Here at the GreenSide Out Garden, our crew of three teens is weeding, planting, and harvesting, most for the first time ever. Over the past three weeks, we planted in almost all the fall crops, learned how to trellis tomatoes and transplant seedlings, discovered and treated various pests and diseases, weeded vigorously between the rows in the back garden, and harvested and delivered over 30 pounds of produce to the Food Pantry.

Weeding. From left to right: Marianna Ballou, Program Leader, and crew Pema Doma, Jamie Yu, and Dexter Jean.

In addition to our daily garden work, our value-added produce program teaches how to cook our local veggies affordably, healthily, and tastily. On one delivery day,we made couscous with summer squash and other vegetables, and on another, we cooked Egyptian-style lentils and rice with tomatoes, peppers, and beet greens from our garden. Then we delivered it to the food pantry along with our produce for the day and a recipe. Teens and food-pantry-goers have enjoyed the opportunity to learn about more ways to cook with various vegetables, both strange and familiar.

To put our work in perspective, we’re touring Brookline's edible gardens! So far, we have seen the 200-foot commuter garden, board member Heidi Krantz’s edible garden (we got to try a fresh peach, some blueberries, and all sorts of herbs and other veggies from her yard), and the High Street Veterans Community Garden. We also helped Green City Growers to prune and trellis tomatoes growing in fifteen kiddie pools on the b.good rooftop. Our non-field education includes workshops on the food system, compost, our own food cultures, and hunger and homelessness. Next week, we are visiting Allandale Farm and prepping the garden for future crews—and produce! It seems to have gone by so quickly. Next year, we hope to expand the program to allow for even more teen enrichment and learning.

Pema Doma waters tomatoes at b.good, Harvard Street a story below.