BRATTLEBORO—Youth at the Moore Court housing complex are helping to answer a question often heard at farmers’ markets: “What can I make with this vegetable?”
With guidance from AmeriCorps volunteer Dane Kingsley and Meredith Wade, an education/outreach coordinator at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, a core group of youth prepare samples using ingredients from that week’s farm share to hand out at the Elliot Street Market Basket every Tuesday.
The youth come from Moore Court, a public-housing development of 28 two-, three- and four-bedroom apartment homes owned and managed by the Brattleboro Housing Authority. Kingsley serves as community program coordinator for Moore Court and Ledgewood Heights, another BHA property, serving as a mentor to and providing activities for youth from the two developments.
The Market Basket is a farmers’ market designed by Post Oil Solutions to give people who qualify for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — access to fresh produce.
“We see what’s in the market basket that week, [Wade] comes up with a recipe, the kids make something using those vegetables and then hand out samples,” says Kingsley.
Wade and Kingsley started developing the cooking for the Elliot Street Market program in the spring, after Kingsley took the kids under his charge to a cooking workshop at the Co-op.
He describes his and Wade’s collaboration as “serendipity.”
“Two people working with youth in Brattleboro who crossed paths,” he says.
Kingsley says he emphasizes teaching nutrition, giving the kids healthy snacks and teaching good eating habits. Last week, they harvested garlic, spinach and basil from the small garden he and the kids planted this summer outside the community room.
In the community room at Moore Court, Kingsley clears the long table of the afternoon’s craft project, poster paint, stickers, and markers. The window air conditioning unit blasts a stream of cool air, creating a haven against the 90-degree-plus heat wave sitting on Windham County.
“A lot of my day is spent picking up,” he says, offering a cup of homemade lemonade.
Soaked from playing in the sprinklers outside, five girls ranging in ages from 7 to 17 tumble into the community room.
Wade says when the program began late June, it drew more boys than girls. As the program went on, a core group of mostly girls formed.
She says a lot of the kids have learned new cooking skills. She quotes a recurring comment from the kids: “I don’t do this at home.”
On this day, the group prepared “rainbow salad” coleslaw using some of the vegetables in this week’s farm share. The salad uses prepared raspberry vinaigrette dressing, instead of mayonnaise or dairy-based dressing that could go bad in the blistering heat.
Wade pulls raw beets, broccoli, carrots, cilantro, and apples from a box, one by one.
Wade asks the group if they recognize the vegetables, gently imparting education in her conversation.
All of the youths talk about each vegetable, possible ways to prepare it, if they’ve tried it before, and other dishes they like.
Wade shows two girls, age 7 and 8, how to grate carrots. Kingsley assists other cooks using the food processor.
“I bring more produce [than the recipe calls for] because once they cook it, they want to eat a bunch of it,” says Wade.
One group member, in seventh grade, says she likes to cook and has taken classes at school.
“I like making stir-fries,” she says.
“I like eating it!” says a 13-year-old who also participates in University of Vermont Extension’s Youth Agricultural Project (see story, page 9).
Everyone in the community room agrees that kale chips are the best dish the group has made for the Elliot Street Market Basket.
Kale chips, explains Wade, are made by coating kale in olive oil, baking the leaves on baking sheets, and then sprinkling with salt.
“[The youths] seem really game to try stuff, especially after they’ve cooked it,” says Wade.
Kingsley walks three of the younger girls down School Street to the parking lot of the Elliot Street Café, home of the Market Basket, as the heat and allure of the sprinklers claim the rest of the group.
The three girls pass out samples of the rainbow salad to people picking up their produce shares.
“They [the girls] totally love it,” says Wade.
The salad is a hit.
People ask the girls for the recipe.
The Moore Court youth, led by Kingsley and Wade, will prepare samples for the Market Basket until the season ends Sept. 28. Kingsley says his AmeriCorps duties will end in late fall. Whether the program continues will depend on who is working with the youth next season, he says.