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WEST CHESTER — With childhood obesity being a major concern in the United States, the Charles A. Melton Arts and Education Center took a huge step in fighting back with its middle-school level children during its New Directions program.
In the beginning of the summer camp, the youth planted a variety of fruits and vegetables and spent time caring for the plants and over the last couple weeks, harvested the fruits of their labor.
Instead of just sending the harvested fruits and vegetables home, Ken Winston, executive director of the Melton Center, came up with the idea of holding a cooking a nutrition class.
“This was through a partnership with Roots Cafe and a GoFundMe account,” Winston said. “The owner (of Roots) was busy at lunchtime, so we used our own personal caterer.”
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The kids grew a number of different healthy treats, from peppers, cabbage and tomatoes to cantaloupe, cucumbers, onions and radishes. And that’s just to name a few.
When the food was ready to be picked, the kids went out and spent a couple weeks picking all that was ripe.
There were 25 kids in the program who grew the garden, which ranged in age from sixth to eighth grade.
Some younger kids were allowed to participate as well.
“We use this as an incentive,” Winston said. “It’s really rewarding.”
The youngest in the class, getting his involved in making his own food, was 8-year-old Chris Oliveras.
The kids in the class used their fruits and vegetables to make a healthy lunch of pizza — using tortillas, homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and fresh oregano — fruit salad and pasta salad. Each serving featured parts from what they all grew.
In addition to the nutritious learning, the kids also learned the importance of washing their hands and making sure to keep their prep spaces clean.
What is leftover in the garden that wasn’t ready will be picked later in the fall, which will coincide with another cooking and nutrition class.
“They’ll pick in the fall whatever is out there, like to collard greens and kale,” Winston said.
The first cooking and nutrition class marked the end of the summer program, bringing the healthy aspect full circle for the youngsters.
Winston hopes to continue the classes once a month, especially after seeing the excitement these first-timers had with the class and the process of growing.
“They love to get dirty and get involved in it,” Winston said. “Not all of them, but most do — even the girly ones.”