Childhood obesity has more than doubled over the past 30 years, and in 2010, more than one third of children were overweight or obese. One approach to combat this health epidemic is to encourage healthy eating habits in children by engaging them in the many methods of sustainable food production, from farm to fork. This week’s Food Hero, the Sylvia Center, based in New York, teaches young people these essential skills. By educating youth about growing and harvesting food and cooking healthy meals, they can make good choices for themselves and their families throughout their lives.
The Sylvia Center was founded in 2006 by Liz Neumark, CEO of Great Performances, one of New York City’s largest off-premise catering companies. Great Performances owns Katchkie Farm, a 60-acre organic farm in Columbia County, New York, where the Sylvia Center calls home.
The Sylvia Center instructs New York youth throughout the year in two different classroom settings: the Center’s cooking programs take place in New York City, and on Katchkie Farm, students are immersed in the process of growing, harvesting, cooking, and eating fresh healthy food. The New York City cooking programs give school-age children and teens the opportunity to take an active role in their eating habits. The children are taught in six-week cycles by chef instructors, who teach basic cooking skills, kitchen safety, flavor profiles, seasonality, food history, and cultural awareness, by being engaged in hands-on activities. While on the farm during the growing season, students get to observe a farm in full operation and become farmers themselves. Katchkie Farm activities include: sensory tours, introducing students to various plants by touch, smell, and taste; hands-on gardening tasks, such as planting, hoeing, weeding, digging, and harvesting; and food preparation using produce that the young farmers-in-training harvest themselves.
The Sylvia Center works with about 2,000 young people a year in both New York City and Columbia County. The center works with elementary school-age children (7-12) and adolescents (14-20), and the majority of these young people live in the public housing systems of New York City. Through accessibility and hands-on education, the Sylvia Center inspires the youth of New York to eat well.