FIT for Kids completes summer program

Mary Ann Van Osdell, Peterson, Grace, Chesser, Vicky  |  8/23/2011 9:41:37 PM

Reggie Alexander demonstrates how much he loves the spicy okra at a taste-a-thon, a Food Initiative Taskforce (FIT) for Kids event Aug. 9 in Shreveport where youth presented dishes made from fresh vegetables they raised. (Photo by Mary Ann Van Osdell. Click on photo for downloadable image.)

News Release Distributed 08/23/11

SHREVEPORT, La. – The Food Initiative Taskforce (FIT) for Kids taught 20 youth ages 11 to 16 how to eat healthful this summer.

A program of the LSU AgCenter, FIT for Kids teaches nutrition through gardening, said LSU AgCenter nutrition agent Vicky Chesser. She and LSU AgCenter extension agent Grace Peterson taught the program with assistance of volunteers.

“The kids learned how to grow and prepare fresh food from their garden at Valencia Park,” Chesser said. “They were taught lessons about the food system, economics, ecosystems, community and justice.”

The children were willing to get dirty, sweaty and itchy in the Valencia Park youth garden to help the community eat more healthfully, too. Their reward included eating their own produce and creating nutritious recipes, as well as sharing their food.

Valencia Park is located at one of Shreveport’s Public Assembly and Recreation (SPAR) centers and provides an agricultural teaching and demonstration site.

Seventy people of all ages attended a “taste-a-thon” at the SPAR center on Aug. 2, where the kids presented dishes made from their fresh vegetables. Attendees received a sticker that said “Eat Vegetables, Move More” and left with a recipe booklet.

Tasting tables included spicy okra, homemade dill pickles, purple hull peas with green beans, salsa and mint tea.

“We FIT kids told guests where the food came from, how to make it and how to grow it,” said Brandon Lewis.

“The tomatoes are fresh,” Talor Magee kept telling the visitors. “We just picked them today.”

Rangell Miller, who was dishing out salsa, said, “We are saving our community.”

“The thing we like best is it exemplifies a partnership with the LSU AgCenter, community and students,” said SPAR director Shelly Ragle.

“It’s amazing everything they’re learning,” Ragle said of the youth. “They’re measuring, writing recipes, organizing and learning culinary skills and public speaking to adults. Most importantly, they are learning to eat well.”

The event also threw in a little artwork for the youth, who made colorful posters with their dishes’ names on them to decorate the tasting tables.

During the summer, Chesser and Peterson led the youth on field trips to Maxwell’s Market, Farmer’s Seafood, Santa Maria Produce, two grocery stores, a farm and restaurant.

The two wanted the field trips to focus on the healthful local food system, including production, processing, distribution, acquisition and consumption in a sustainable and economically balanced society, they said.

Chesser said the youth learned about division and fairness at the grocery store visits. The amount, quality and variety of produce, and sometimes pricing, can differ greatly among stores in different socio-economic levels, she explained.

Chesser’s classroom lessons focused on how to measure ingredients correctly, kitchen tools and utensils, kitchen safety, how to read recipes, cooking techniques and practicing cooking a variety of produce from the garden.

The youth also had a potato boil that Chesser called “a non-crawfish crawfish boil” and learned how to preserve green beans.

Team building was important, Peterson added, as the youth worked in groups all summer.

Peterson taught a watering lesson that included frequency, timing and quantity. Another lesson involved gardening tools and how to use them.

Volunteers were essential to the program, as was a student worker, Peterson said.

Peterson said FIT for Kids is a step toward meeting two goals from the Shreveport-Caddo 2030 Master Plan – that locally grown foodstuffs are available for consumption in a variety of outlets and that all residents have reasonable access to healthful, affordable food in close geographic proximity and are well informed about nutrition.

“I am really amazed with the youth that come,” said Shalon Lewis, manager of Valencia Park Community Center. “They live in the area, and the project gives them ownership to this community and the community center park.”

Mary Ann Van Osdell
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