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by Robin Kerber, CIA Student and volunteer with Slow Food Hudson Valley

As I sat in the car, waiting for my friends, I was thinking about a recipe for winter barley vegetable soup: butternut squash, roasted beets, celeriac, and barley. After spending all day making pastries in class, nothing sounded more satisfying than a bowl of warm soup made with fresh, local ingredients. But I wasn’t making the soup for me. I was about to travel to the Mount Kisco Child Care Center to help with a friendly “Iron Chef” whole grains themed competition.

The first time that we—six students from the Culinary Institute of America—had traveled to Mount Kisco to plan our meal with the kids, I had had no idea what to expect. What do children know about cooking let alone designing a dish? It turns out they know a lot. At least the children of The Mount Kisco Child Care Center do. They have their own edible schoolyard, which produces a huge variety of fresh fruits and veggies.

My friends and I arrived with our knives sharpened and our whisks in hand. My team came up with a recipe that sounded delicious and hearty, with flavors like thyme and parsley. I’m fairly certain I didn’t know what thyme was until I was much older than these kids but the experience made me realize that something remarkable was spreading slowly but surely across the nation: initiatives to teach children how to live sustainably. The children were gathered around a table, carefully cutting vegetables into chunks. We immediately got to work in the kitchen, helping the excited children prepare a tasty meal. And, as dinner – time rolled around, the Center was packed with friends, family, and local purveyors.

Many of the courses featured wheat, oats, and cornmeal that were grown and milled in the Hudson Valley. Local honey sweetened whole wheat bread and polenta with I&Me Farm pea shoots setting the stage for a fantastic meal. My team’s vegetable barley soup and an entrée of quinoa pilaf with local apples helped make the meal a celebration of winter flavors. By the time apple crumble was served, the consensus was clear: local food is simply great. But it wasn’t just the food that made the night unforgettable. It was the feeling that we were working as a unified group, rather than as individuals. By the end of the evening, most would have to agree that life feels more meaningful when you understand the connection between land, food, and community.

Final words from the Mt. Kisco Child Care Center kids-Stephanie, Paulina, Sabrina, Vincent, Benji, Emily, Sam, Nitza, Jocelyn, Emma, Clara and Zachery aged 5-11:

“Everyone got to practice their knife skills. We ran back and forth from harvesting fresh pea shoots to the busy kitchen. Yummy taste of peas.”

“This was our second “iron chef” competition and it was fun. All we ask is: “When can we do it again?” Growing and cooking are the best. It makes everyone so happy.”

“Maybe we’ll go to school to become chefs one day, but even if we don’t, we’ll be healthy eaters.”