Monday, January 23, 2012

Youth Achievers/New Roots “New You” for a New Year Project

Youth Food Justice Leader LaJuan Odom giving
“Karyn’s Hummus” with fresh veggie dippers a try
At the end of 2011, New Roots and the Chestnut Street YMCA Youth Achievers decided to join our strengths and create the very first Youth Food Justice Leadership Training in Louisville. New Roots developed a Food Justice Leadership Curriculum in 2011, but this eight-week, 16 hour class was geared towards adults. Our challenge was to come up with a training for children from K-7 that would reconnect the children to their food culture and history, and therefore encourage a return to cooking and eating “from scratch,” i.e., with fresh local fruits and vegetables. The idea is to instill pride in the children that they are descended from men and women who had (and still have) an abundance of knowledge about growing food “out of the ground,” and that without their ancestor’s foresight to bring seeds across the Middle Passage to the Americas, southern cooking’s main ingredients, i.e., okra, collards, yams, etc., would never have arrived on these shores.
In November 2011, New Roots organizers Blain Snipstal and Karyn Moskowitz met with the Youth Achievers volunteer leaders Kellye Cunningham, Ria Chandler, and Jamie Keith, and their children, to create this new partnership and ensure that it would be community-inspired and led. The five of them invited the parents of the Youth Achievers to come to an open forum in December 2011, to find out what issues the families were passionate about. The parents were very interested in talking about their children’s and their health, and how to start to lose weight. The families are from all zip codes around Kentuckiana, so the issue of food justice didn’t come up as much as it does in areas of Louisville where many people are having challenges accessing fresh food. Parents were very interested, however, in the injustices they see in the JCPS school food, that is, that some schools have better food than others, that the menus sent home don’t always reflect what is actually served, and that the food, in general, is not healthy. They felt that JCPS school food is exacerbating the problems of childhood obesity and going against what some of the parents were trying to do at home, namely move away from processed foods into a fresh food-based diet. At the end of the session, Blain gave out fresh bok choy to any family that wanted some, and there was great excitement in the air. The feedback we got from the parents was very positive. Many asked the Youth Achievers leaders when New Roots was coming back.
After many weeks of organizing, and expanding the planning group to include some New Roots board members, Shawnee Fresh Stop leaders, and other volunteers, including actor/director and JCPS teacher Jou Jou Papailler, we came up with a plan. Saturday, January 14th was designated “New Roots Day” at the YMCA Youth Achievers session. The program was two hours long, and included an inspiring introduction by Ms. Ria Chandler, and a presentation on African-American food history by Blain Snipstal. In small-group sessions led by Mr. Papallier, Ms. Myrna Brame, Ms. Mary Montgomery, Mr. Nathaniel Spencer, and Mr. Snipstal, the children talked about their own personal food histories. The small-group sessions were followed by a one-hour “round robin” where the children and their parents rotated through 5 tables of fresh snack demonstrations led by four volunteers, Doris Bailey Spencer and New Roots board members, Ali Mathews, Karyn Moskowitz and Kathey Schickli. The idea was to offer snacks that children can either make on their own, or with the help of their parents, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. Snacks were chosen that “mimic” the sensations of eating fast food, including creamy, savory and sweet all in one meal, such as hummus dip with fresh carrot, pea and cucumber dippers, orange smiley faces with fresh pineapple chunks, lettuce wraps filled with “luscious fruit salad,” celery boats with raisin sailors, and “instant” banana pudding made from fresh bananas, applesauce and yogurt. The children loved the snacks! Thanks to the creativity and initiative of Kathey Schickli, the children were each sent home with a kid-friendly cookbook, which included recipes for all the snacks prepared that day. And much appreciation to Ms. Lynn Johnson, the Director of the Black and Youth Achievers, and the YMCA for purchasing the beautiful fresh ingredients that went into the snacks. The day ended with a rousing speech by Ms. Myrna Brame, reminding the children of their connection to the produce that grows on the farms in our region, and asking them to visit their elders and bring back their stories to share at our next gathering.
55 children, 10 parents, and 10 New Roots leaders, for a total of 75 people, attended the event. The children were sent home with instructions to gather information, including recipes, photos, drawings, etc., about their own personal food culture and history. New Roots will reconvene with Youth Achievers on February 25, 2012. The “New You” group would like to keep meeting throughout the school year, hopefully once a month. The parents will be invited to join in the second annual Food Justice Leaders Class, starting in April, at Redeemer Lutheran Church. In June, when the Shawnee Fresh Stop kicks off, we will invite the children and the parents to join the organizing team so they will learn “the ropes” about Fresh Stops. In August, when the children return to the Youth Achievers program, we hope to teach the children community- organizing skills so they can see if the neighborhood residents surrounding the YMCA would be interested in launching a special, pilot Youth Achievers Fresh Stop before the end of the 2012 growing season.
At the beginning of 2012, New Roots is excited and hopeful about the prospects of developing Youth Food Justice leaders. We invite anyone in the community with an interest in helping our youth to reconnect with their personal, family and community food history and culture to join us in this innovative adventure.

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