Cooking For A Cause: Stone Barns Mobile Kitchen Classroom Expands To The Bronx

Stone Barns Center’s program helps children contribute to the creation of a new healthy and sustainable food culture.

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture’s Mobile Kitchen Classroom program, designed to teach students how food is connected to culture, power, and the environment, has recently expanded. They brought their four-year-old “food citizenship” program to Bronx Compass School, their fourth school this month.

The program aims to empower kids by helping them better understand food and how it fits into their lives practically, environmentally, culturally, and politically. The goal is to create “food citizens,” who actively contribute to the creation of a new healthy and sustainable food culture.

In 2012, Stone Barns Center (SBC) created the program in partnership with actor Adrian Grenier’s SHFT, described as a sustainability platform, with the aim to bring food educators, farmers, chefs, and entrepreneurs to schools to not only teach students about cooking healthy meals, but to engage students in lively discussions about the importance of food, agriculture, and sustainability.

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The curriculum is divided into three parts: Food and Culture, which explores how food is a reflection of society’s values and priorities; Food and Healthy System, which has students ask how food serves as a foundation for individual community and environmental wellbeing; and Food and Power, which encourages students to view how food can be an avenue to empowerment, citizenship, and social justice.

“The program has an outlined curriculum, but it is adapted for different schools’ needs,” said Jen Rothman, SBC Education Director who runs Mobile Kitchen.

At the Bronx Compass High School, Mobile Kitchen is part of the school’s semester-long elective environmental science course. At Equality Charter School in the Bronx, where the program started last February, the program is part of the ninth-grade curriculum for every student, but only involves SBC for two full days. The grade took a trip to the farm to learn about seed breeding and genetics for their biology class last year and they will be back in March for a debate on the topic. The program’s first school, Bard High School on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and the Women’s Leadership School in Astoria both incorporated Mobile Kitchen into their social studies programs. At Bard, the program runs for a full semester, while at Women’s Leadership it is taught in ten consecutive days as part of their two-week intensive credit options.  

“Our goal was to create curriculum that can be piecemealed out or be taught as a full semester-long course,” Rothman said.

At the schools where semester-long courses are run, Rothman operates the “mobile kitchen,” bringing all the farm fresh produce and cooking equipment needed to turn a classroom or school cafeteria into a teaching kitchen each week. She usually works with a co-teacher at each partner school, but also brings in a mix of SBC farmers, entrepreneurs and chefs to help students relate the coursework to the real world.

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“I think that it has been really eye opening to a lot of kids to see people who are actually doing the kind of work what they learn about in the real world,” Rothman said.

Students also take trips to SBC, for tours and demonstrations of things like the head livestock farmer breaking down a chicken. “It helps them connect what we teach in the classroom to how it is applied in the real world,” said Rothman.

At the end of the program, the students prepare a “Mindful Meal” and share a project to help spread the word about what it means to be a food citizen. At Bard, this meal was held in late January. Students presented their profiles that described why they chose the food they did, how it was grown and all the people that were involved with getting it on your plate. “You could really see a change in the way they think about food,” said Rothman.

As they expand, Mobile Kitchen is currently looking for funding for a van equipped with all the tools needed to run a mobile kitchen classroom in order to continue forming the food citizens of the future.

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