Kids learn food literacy at new center
By Gabrielle Myers
One afternoon in my community college English classroom, four students arrived with an assortment of Fiery Hot Cheetos, Skittles and sodas. Students aren’t supposed to eat in classrooms, but it was lunchtime. I knew the students were hungry and didn’t interrupt their snacking before class.
No surprise, by our 1:30 p.m. break, the students who devoured vending machine snacks were lethargic and barely able to participate.
The trends are horrifying and unmistakable. Forty percent of California fifth graders are overweight or obese. A disproportionate number among them are minority students. We know young brains need nourishment. The mind-body connection is under-addressed in our schools.
The Food Literacy Center wants to change how kids eat, teaching them about nutrition and how to prepare culturally relevant, nourishing foods.
In July 2011, Amber Stott, who founded the Food Literacy Center, saw our broken food system, where many people lack access to fresh produce and knowledge to prepare it. She “wanted to do something about it,” she says.
With a background in nonprofit public service, Stott studied public health behavioral change campaigns and recognized that to lower childhood obesity, we need to transform how kids eat. From one elementary school in Oak Park, Stott’s programs now serve students in low-income schools throughout town.
The Food Literacy Center’s new building on 2.5 acres in Upper Land Park is a collaboration among Sac City Unified School District, the city, and developers of the Mill at Broadway.
Stott says this new space next to Leataata Floyd Elementary School is “a good example of government gone right.” The center has a fresh vegetable, herb and fruit garden where students learn how food grows and how to nourish plants.
The new green building, fueled by solar panels, has a large teaching kitchen with several stations for small groups of kids to learn how to prepare and cook fresh produce.
The 270 students at Leataata Floyd visit the center for classes Monday through Thursday. One course introduces kids to the garden and how to grow and care for plants. Another, based in the teaching kitchen, instructs students to prepare and cook produce. Stott says, “We are the science and health education for Leataata Floyd, and we provide that at no charge to the school district,” Stott says.
In the new building, the center has a commercial kitchen where staff prepares food for nutrition and cooking classes at 15 other Sac City elementary schools, plus five schools in the Robla School District.
By teaching more than 2,000 students each year, the Center for Food Literacy’s potential impact on the health of new generations is impressive.
Stott is an advocate for the Farm to School movement. She trained in Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program and saw the need for statewide grant support. Then Stott advocated for Farm to School within the state Department of Food and Agriculture. The Farm to School program is a major supporter of the Food Literacy Center.
“When it comes to the folks who work in food, whether it’s restaurants or farms, or even the folks working in food system nonprofits, we have an abundance mindset. Food is abundance,” Stott says. “We all come to the table with that mindset, so it’s highly collaborative. Everybody enjoys working together. We like each other so it makes it really easy to be working in this movement in Sacramento.”
The public can support the movement by volunteering at the Land Park center. Donations are always welcome, but with limited staff and large workloads, the center needs volunteers for the classroom and garden.
The center offers fresh dishes at its Plant Parts Café on first Fridays this summer through August, 4–7 p.m. Please drop by.
For information, call (916) 476-4766 or visit foodliteracycenter.org.
Gabrielle Myers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her latest book of poetry, “Too Many Seeds,” can be ordered from fishinglinepress.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.