Food Forward Goes to Camp!

Backyard Harvest Coordinator, Samantha Teslik, came to Food Forward with experience developing and implementing youth education programs focused around food. She recently was invited to be a guest educator at Camp Ubuntu and was thrilled at the opportunity to once again engage with students about the food related topics she’s passionate about. Read on for more about her time at camp!

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At the start of this month I was afforded the opportunity to represent Food Forward at Camp Ubuntu, a summer program for kids living in the community of Watts. I was extremely excited to engage with the group, consisting of 100 sixth grade students, and discuss how they as individuals can make an impact in the fight against hunger and food waste. Little did I know, the focus of my workshop would tie in so well with the camp’s core philosophy. Ubuntu is a South African term that means, “I am because we are”, and the youth attending Camp Ubuntu participated in activities teaching them to rely on and support one another to achieve success as an individual, as a family, and as a community.

The camp took place at a neighborhood middle school and my time there was spent working outdoors near the garden, which despite being largely ignored during the regular school year had several young fruit trees bearing pomegranates, apples and persimmons. The energy of the students I encountered reflected the resilience of those neglected saplings, as each group of kids came bursting through the gate into the garden to greet me and demand more information about what I had in store.

After mentioning we’d be focusing on food waste, I could see their eyes begin to glaze over, so I quickly attempted to rebound with some staggering facts about how much perfectly good food is thrown out. This worked on a few, but I knew I had to act fast in order to avoid losing them (remember these are 11 and 12 year olds I am talking to). Luckily this was not my first time around the block with middle schoolers. “Alright, alright,” I said as some started to get restless and give me the who cares look, “So are you trying to tell me none of you have ever wasted food?” Eyes began to dart around at one another across the weathered picnic bench where they sat. Once a few brave hands were raised, they all shot up. When I asked the reasons why they wasted food, their answers were pretty typical: I put too much on my plate; I forgot about it in the fridge; I didn’t like the way my mom cooked it. But the overwhelming response was “because it looked nasty.” Kids LOVE to use the word nasty, especially when talking about food. Kids also love a good challenge, so I pulled some unusual and funky lookin’ fruits and vegetables out from my trusty Food Forward tote bag (a reward for our Super Volunteers) to capitalize on this talk of strange and waste-worthy foods and challenge the group to see if anyone was willing to do a blind taste test of some “nasty” vs. “normal” foods to see if they could tell the difference. To my surprise, just about every student wanted in, and the results were awesome. When asked to determine whether they were munching on orange, yellow or purplish black (aka “super nasty”) carrots, the findings were indistinguishable and the kids were amazed.

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To some this may not seem like a lesson on food waste, but following this challenge and another where I asked if anyone was capable of eating an entire apple (dozens did this too!), the students devoured the remaining multicolored carrots while we talked together about how surprised they were by the great taste of something that looked so nasty. I used this pivotal moment to bring the discussion back to the importance of not throwing food out just because it doesn’t look like it’s worth eating. And if you take too much or aren’t in the mood to eat what’s given to you that doesn’t mean it should go in the garbage. Food, whether it be cooked by your mom or picked from the school garden, should be shared with those who may not be as fortunate to throw away what they don’t want, and by giving to others and keeping good food out of the trash, you as an individual will benefit the community in which you live.

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