08 Jun 2010

Learning a Love of Good Food at the Watkins Teaching Kitchen

Photo by María Helena Carey

Urban gardening is something that never ceases to amaze.  Walking around Capitol Hill and seeing the ingenuity people display to grow their tomatoes and pumpkins in tiny and otherwise inhospitable spaces is not just a thing of beauty but a real triumph over the grim barrenness of the city.

And of all the triumphs involved in urban gardening, few are more inspiring or downright delightful around Capitol Hill than the garden at Watkins Elementary School.  Not only is the garden a clever use of space that would otherwise be large swaths of grass with little use for anything but walking on or sitting, but it is also able to produce a respectable amount of vegetables– enough to pique the lucky students’ curiosity when it comes to food that you’ve grown from seed.

Photo by María Helena Carey

It’s easy to assume that all children are picky eaters, at least a little bit.

We’ve all heard the stories from former children and their family members delighting in the lack of sophistication of a child’s palate and waxing poetic about the strange or monotonous things said children would or would not eat: nothing but chicken nuggets; only smooth peanut butter and strawberry jam for breakfast and lunch; a determined aversion to undercooked carrots; or my personal favorite, which was stuffed grape leaves minus the grape leaf (so, just rice in a fancy case) for six months straight.

So imagine my surprise when, during a visit to Watkins Elementary School’s teaching kitchen and edible gardens, pretty much every single child in the class was beyond giddy and excited to pick fresh vegetables!  And I was bowled over when they wanted to try them and test them and, then, eat them!

Photo by María Helena Carey

The teaching kitchen at Watkins is led by Jennifer Mampara, who works with students between first and third grade.  There is a multidisciplinary approach to the teaching kitchen, as it instructs kids not only on nutritional matters, but also on biological and botanical aspects such as the parts of a plant and the different adaptations that plants develop and how they make them taste and look different.

Every class gets a chance to sit down with their own teacher and with Ms. Mampara, who guides them from sowing to harvesting and teaches them how to differentiate among the different in the vegetable garden.  They journal, observe, color, and have what can only be described as a really awesome time (seriously– these kids were bouncing with glee from being outdoors, touching plants!).  Then, once the veggies have been harvested, the class moves indoors: on the third floor, in Watkins’s teaching kitchen, the food is combined with famers’ market offerings– thanks to the generous donations from the FarmFresh Markets– and converted into delicious recipes.  The day I observed, the class put together a really amazing stir fry with the sugar snap peas, onions, carrots, and bok choy the children picked fresh. The classroom was filled with an aroma that, like most of this experience, is hard to describe.  I could earn my corniness badge and tell you that it, along with the happiness and the carnival feeling, were all magical: and they were.

Photo by María Helena Carey

Anytime something you thought could not really happen happens, it’s nothing short of magic.

What's trending

7 responses to “Learning a Love of Good Food at the Watkins Teaching Kitchen”

  1. Marcus says:

    I love this idea. What a great learning experience on several levels.

    BTW, I just saw that the only DC teacher to win the President’s Math and Science Teaching award this year teaches on Capitol Hill: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-math-and-science-teachers-award-release

  2. IMGoph says:

    grim barrenness of the city? isn’t that a little bit of hyperbole?

    even in the places where there are no edible gardens, this city is very, very green. the “public parking” provided by the l’enfant plan ensures a big difference with other cities like baltimore or philadelphia.

  3. Maria says:

    Yes, yes. Is a girl not allowed a little poetic license around these here parts?

    But definitely: DC is very green, as far as cities go.

  4. IMGoph says:

    i guess i don’t have a problem with poetic license (my girlfriend has a big one of those). “grim barrenness” sounds a little too far towards post-apocalyptic, though. maybe more like “boring lawns” or “gravel parking pads”

  5. Jill says:

    Any Hill neighbors who enjoy the beautiful gardens around Watkins and have some extra time to spare this summer, please consider volunteering some of your time to help maintain the garden during summer break. Hill treasure Barbara Percival (http://www.thehillishome.com/2010/03/recognizing-capitol-hills-remarkable-women-part-2/) will not be able to fill her role as master Watkins caretaker for the summer. I can put anyone in touch with the volunteer coordinator if you would like to lend a hand in the garden this summer. jillcashen@gmail.com

  6. Jennifer says:

    Both my kids, 1st & 3rd graders, do Foodprints and it is a fabulous program. Jennifer Mampara & Barbara Percival do a wonderful job teaching the kids. We have made many of the recipes at home over and over again. Kudos to Jennifer, Barbara, Fresh Farms and Watkins for making it all happen.

  7. Eric says:

    The food Prints program is a huge success, but the cooking facilities are rudimentary at best with Jennifer and her helpers doing a heroic effort on electric cooking plates. I am part of an effort to design and build a proper cooking and teaching kitchen for this program which has been a proven success with the kids. Please support the new Food Lab at Watkins by contacting our representatives (Tommy Well and others) to express your support.

Social Media Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com
Add to Flipboard Magazine.