ST. PETERSBURG — For some children, summertime is a much anticipated season for fun and adventure. For others, the summer is a time for fear of missing out on meals and guaranteed nutrition. One summer program based at Pinellas Technical College (PTC) aimed to tackle that fear.
Kids in the Kitchen is a program for children of all ages hosted by The Gathering of Women, Inc. The program offered a garden and culinary learning experience on Tuesdays and Thursdays all summer long.
“The purpose of Kids in the Kitchen is to create a community safe space,” said Nicole Brand, program coordinator.
On Tuesdays, the group meets at PTC to work on the school’s former horticulture program grounds, where they help to revamp and maintain their community garden known as “Ms. Jo’s Garden.”
“You learn a lot in the garden; I even learned that worms are the base of the Earth,” said Tamara, one of the students who attend the program.
Ms. Jo’s Garden, named after garden enthusiast Josephine Lampley, has everything from cabbage and spinach, to chives, oregano, basil and various other plants. On one end of the garden, there is even a box full of worms that live in the habitat created for them by the kids.
“Growing up, my daddy made us each a fishing pole out of the branches on trees,” said Lampley, “and we would dig up worms and use them to catch fish.”
Now, she shares experiences from her youth with the kids both in the garden and in the kitchen.
On Thursdays, the group heads inside to the former horticulture building to learn about food nutrition, safe cooking practices and how to fuse items from their own community garden into edible masterpieces.
The pint-sized gardeners came up with a list of kitchen safety rules as a class, including things such as “wash your hands” and “a little goes a long way.”
“My favorite thing is that I get to learn how to cook,” said Adrianna, another eager to learn chef-in-the-making. “Who knew you could add salt to pancakes?”
The Kids in the Kitchen program offers children a lot more than just a garden and culinary experience. Roosevelt Harris, one of the program’s guest chefs, has worked in restaurants his entire life. He offers a unique outlook on life that inspires kids in the program to have confidence.
“There’s a basic dynamic in life. You have to find your passion,” Harris said. “The person you see in the mirror, you have to love that person, and you have to think for yourself. You must have this balance in life.”
Some of the kids have strong opinions and will say “no” to a lot of things they are asked to do simply because in real life they don’t have that chance.
“We have a rule here that you don’t have to touch or eat the food,” said Nicole Brand, “but you do have to look at it and smell it.”
Tactics like this allow the children to learn and grow from the experience of the program, while still being able to exercise freedom of choice and expression.
“I loved cooking the banana pancakes,” said Layla, one of the students in the class. “It’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.”
While the summer program only lasts through next Thursday, during the fall, it is set to continue every Wednesday afternoon as an afterschool program.