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by intern Maia Piccagli

Many of you may recognize Dr. Susan Rubin, the leader of Slow Food Westchester, from the school food documentary, 2 Angry Moms. What you may not know is that last summer she, along with the kitchen staff at Camp Ballibay, took on traditional camp food and successfully overturned tradition.

The story started when Chef Ellen Thomas approached Dr. Rubin about finding college kids to staff the camp kitchen. As a mom of campers, she was especially interested in providing good food, and asked if instead, she could come work in the kitchen. Ellen welcomed her, created new menus, and together they transformed the camp diet from one of largely packaged and processed foods sourced by Sysco to a locally-supplied, fresh, and nutritious menu items that the campers ultimately loved. 30% of their fruit came from local Pennsylvania producers. One of the best parts was, when all was said and done, their new kitchen practices resulted in a $5000 savings.

They didn’t strip camp favorites like pizzas and sandwiches from the menu, but they sourced the ingredients differently. They made everything from scratch—even yogurt and granola. Campers were introduced to foods with which they may not have been familiar, like Korean rice balls and hummus (check out their hummus music video above). She recognized that raising awareness and providing healthy food options needed to be done, but had to be done with fun to be engaging.

Campers loved the changes. A performing arts camp, Ballibay holds a variety of “jam nights,” musical jam sessions where students can strut their stuff. They added a “kitchen jam” as a joke one night, and 21 campers showed up! The staff began rotating campers through the kitchen to help cook.