August 6, 2012

“Project Corner Store:” Youth Make Muscle Broccoli

Keri Szejda Fehrenbach

Keri Szejda Fehrenbach

Research Assistant

Center for a Livable Future

This blogpost was co-written with Mia Celucci and Allison Righter.

Recently, a few of us from CLF admired colorful painted posters of fruits and vegetables (including this awesome broccoli floret with huge muscles), enjoyed free samples of healthy snacks, and got our hands dirty making food art. Just another day in the office? We wish!

Seizing the opportunity to get out of the office and support local community groups and events whenever possible, we gladly accepted the invitation to attend a Community Food Fair in East Baltimore hosted by youth from a summer program at The Club at Collington Square. The Club provides after-school and summer programming that focuses on academic support, community arts programming, and middle school youth leadership for students enrolled in Collington Square School, a K-8 Title 1 school in East Baltimore. Located in a low-income community that’s challenged by high crime rates and poor health outcomes, the Club offers a safe haven for youth where they can engage in and be empowered by a wide variety of positive and educational activities.

Food is an important component of this program that provides a free dinner and snack during the academic school year, and a lunch and dinner during summer camp. In recent years, a special emphasis has been placed on healthy eating and already huge improvements have been made. For example, hot dogs have been replaced with healthier alternatives, and fresh fruits and vegetables are slowly being introduced to the kids.

Driven by the alarmingly high rates of diet-related diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, and the scarcity of healthy foods options in their surrounding community, the Club launched “Project Corner Store” as the theme for this year’s summer camp. Working with students from the Maryland Institute College of Arts (MICA) for six weeks from June through the end of July, the Club’s youth researched healthy foods, learned about food deserts, and visited nearby corner stores and markets to find out how their families can make smart eating choices in their neighborhood. (See this post for more on Baltimore food deserts.) All of this would be in preparation for a Community Food Fair during the last week of the program to give the students an opportunity to showcase their work.

A big pat on the back from CLF to everyone involved in making the Community Food Fair such a successful and inspiring event!

Here are a couple highlights from the fair:

  • One girl with fantastic pink glasses served us fruit, granola, and yogurt parfaits. Her booth sported a painted banner with a strawberry on it, and when asked, “What’s your favorite part about the program?” she smiled and replied in a way that made us feel the answer should have been obvious – “the food!”
  • A young boy was eager to show us how to make our own fruit-stamped lunch bags. Potatoes, carrots, radishes, oranges, and even a rambutan were cut and transformed into stamps to dip into paint and decorate lunch bags. Here was where we came upon the muscle broccoli, a painted banner proudly displayed behind the fruit-stamp booth. The organizers would love to make this and the other students’ veggie paintings into banners and display them around the neighborhood, marking it as a “healthy eating zone”.

The program is run by the Episcopal Community Services of Maryland, in partnership with the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). The next step is to open a teaching kitchen across the street from the community center, slated for November 2012.

What a great afternoon and a wonderful display of community-driven food systems work!

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