With my background in pediatric nursing, I knew that I wanted to spend my summer internship for my Master in Public Health doing something with kids. I am studying in the Health Behavior and Health Education program because I want to be able to help all people, but especially youth, learn about health and their ability to control their own destiny, through education, encouraging their ability to make their own choices (when appropriate), and sharing what resources or programs are available to them. My hope is that whatever job I end up in, it will be one that helps children to gain life skills and encourage healthier living, with the ultimate goal of preventing long term health consequences that result from a lack of knowledge or exposure.
Through my internship search, I came upon Green Plate Special. I knew I loved the city of Seattle, and this organization sounded like a great fit. Green Plate Special is a gardening and cooking program that aims to engage ethnically diverse middle school youth (who come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds) by teaching them the self-sufficiency skills of growing, cooking, and eating healthy, tasty food. They hope to empower urban youth to engage with nature, get their hands in the earth, and eat food they may not have tried before.
Green Plate Special is Seattle’s only middle-school specific, curriculum-based program combining food growing with cooking. They aim to impart knowledge and teach practical everyday life skills surrounding food as part of the solution to breaking the cycle of childhood obesity and other food related health issues. The hope to do this by teaching about where your food comes from, what makes food nutritious, the importance of taking the time to sit down and eat with no distractions (TV), as well as learning about different food cultures-and how that effects peoples food choices and customs.
Throughout my summer in Seattle working at Green Plate Special, I have worked with various groups of kids, but most have been 6th-9th graders. We have planted many things in the garden -radish, swiss chard, carrots, peas, tomatoes, beets, dill, herbs, celery, to name a few. While the kids are in the program, they also learn how to cook each day they come to us, including cooking techniques like knife skills, and also basic recipes like omelettes.
I have learned what a unique age group this middle school age is, because they are still strongly influenced by their parents or caretakers, but are starting to make their own decisions and become more independent. It has been amazing to see them stretch their comfort zones.
I have experienced many kids trying vegetables for the first time, or saying it was the first time they ever planted something. It is encouraging to see these youth try new vegetables and actually enjoy them, I can definitely see that even in small ways they are more open to different vegetables and fruits than they were before starting our program. I am encouraged that they will share what they learned with their friends and family, and that the effects of the Green Plate special programs will begin to ripple in the community. One 7th grade girl told us she was happy to be in our program and learn how to cook, because she was staying home to watch her little brother all summer, and now instead of cooking from a box for him she said, “I can now make more nutritious meals”!