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A family prescription for fun nutrition

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It was just as the cucumbers were coming on and the fruit trees were heavy with apples and pears that I saw an announcement for a series of farm-to-kitchen cooking classes.

My daughter, Sprout, has grown up with her own “backyard grocery store”. We’re lucky she digs it so much. How can you not, when a seed the size of roughly-ground black pepper grows into a sweet, purple carrot? How to make the leap, though, into cooking on her own? To deepen her comprehension of sumptuous, nutritious food and its relationship to the muscular little body in which she lives?

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I showed her the announcement. We read it together: “‘Cooking Matters for Families’ brings school-aged children and their families together to learn about healthy eating, planning meals as a family, and working together in the kitchen.”

Was she down? You betcha. We discussed the time commitment — one day a week for six weeks, two hours each class, at the Carbondale Rec Center. And the dangling, golden carrot? At the end, she would earn her very own cutting board…and chef’s knife. Yep, that’s right: a legit, full-on, sharp as heck knife. How’s that for motivation? She just barely got her first pocket knife and now she gets a full nine inches?!

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Absolutely.

In these times, where food is a social justice movement, the ‘fruits’ of Monsanto lurk in every biological organism on the planet, and obesity threatens the health of millions of people, programs like Farm Rx rock. Farm Rx made “icky” vegetables come alive with new flavors and textures, all the while connecting parents and kids in the kitchen and at the dining table.

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As a free program for low income families, Farm Rx targets the families that need it most. Recognizing the value of locally grown foods, the program partnered with Roaring Gardens CSA. We received delicious, weekly bags of organic veggies, often filled with crazy things even I had never eaten before.

Every week, Sprout joined newly-familiar families in learning about the food that grows our bodies. Wonderfully, Farm Rx took the onus off of me, the “nagging” parent, in demonstrating that food and nutrition are just an everyday part of life, important to families everywhere.

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Farm Rx covered the obvious bases — the revised food pyramid of veggies, grains, proteins and fruits. We learned about vitamins, calories, proteins and carbs; how to read food labels and to compare the quality and ratio of ingredients.

In related activities, we compared heaps of glistening Crisco on paper plates, representing the fat content of a burger or a slice of pizza. The kids got a kick out of blind taste tests picking the best apple. With the highest sugar content, Honeycrisp won by a landslide!

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We also tackled a delicious new recipe using that week’s farm veggies, cooked en masse in the Rec Center kitchen. What a blast to watch our kids vie for the grater or the chef knife or the blender, to pitch in and cook. Better yet? Eating it together — ooing, ahhing and slurping over tacos with crunchy onion and rich cilantro (yes, kids ate onions!) or pita sandwiches piled with zukes and cukes, topped in zang-a-langy yogurt dressing.

Toward the end of the six weeks, we visited “our” farmer Ben Armstrong at Roaring Gardens in Carbondale. Rows upon rows of veggies made for a rich tapestry of color: wine red lettuces and beets contrasted with the frosty blue kales and luminous chards. Tumescent heads of pale cabbage bobbled alongside purple-dusted domes of broccoli. It was a Dr. Seussian tableau of magic that sent the kids into a frenzy, pretty much.

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Farmer Ben introduced us to different families of veggies — nightshades, brassicas, fruits. We learned to gently pick yellow, black or purple tomatoes. We tasted ground cherries and cherry-sized pepino melons, both bursting with intriguing flavors. It was a nutty afternoon and truly sent the message home: food is fantastical. It comes from the ground. People grow it. It’s the best, “funnest” kinda food to cook and eat.

Farm Rx seemed most about “connection” — connecting parents and kids, kids and food, farms and kitchens. I saw the outcome in our own kitchen. Sprout loves to help out more, often tying on an apron, meaning business. She wields her chef knife with pride and care, prepping and cooking her first mushroom soup, her first cherry pie (from our trees!) and doing everything herself. It’s pretty cool.

For more information on the class and to register, visit carbondalerec.com or call 510-1290.

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