04/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Michelle Obama's Fresh Food Bail Out

Welcome to the garden! Let's call it The Obama Effect when America suddenly will discover the connection between food experiences and eating, especially for young children.

We call it experiential learning. It is literally planting seeds. Welcome to The Sylvia Center at Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, NY where we have been making this connection for 3 years.

Imagine this -- a group of urban kids comes to the farm. They walk through the greenhouse, plant seedlings, go out to the fields and harvest vegetables. They have never seen where a carrot comes from. It is a revelation.


With a wheelbarrow of freshly picked vegetables, they then wander through the herb garden, tasting snips of fresh parsley, dill, basil, rosemary. Small wild flowers are plucked and bouquets are assembled. The adventurous spirits taste edible blossoms -- pansies, nasturtium.

Then, to the open field kitchen where interns and volunteers oversee the vigorous chopping, dicing and slicing that transforms the produce into bite sized pieces that go into the soup pot. The fresh lettuce greens are washed and a salad is made with ripe tomatoes, peppers and a sprinkle of fresh herbs.


There is a walk on the woodland trail or a visit to the pigs who eat the compost pile that the students assembled.

Soup's on! Our visitors sit at the picnic tables and from the looks of it -- you'd think they never had homemade soup before. Seconds, even thirds are served to this ravenous group. Salads are devoured as well. The small lunch bags with snacks from home sit in a neglected pile (for the bus ride home!)


Before they leave, there is circle time story telling and a drawing project about eating a rainbow of different colored fruits and vegetables.

The seed that was planted has found fertile ground. With a little luck, which takes the form of repeated exposure to farm fresh, local food, it will sprout.


The Sylvia Center was established in 2006, ( dedicated to introducing children to the life-giving pleasures of fresh food from the farm. The goal is to inspire young people to discover good nutrition through joyful, delicious experiences with healthy and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

I bet that this food connection and experience is something that everyone reading Huffington Post -- or hiring us at Great Performances -- takes for granted. We might not know how to harvest a carrot, but we know enough about health and food connections to make good choices most of the time. But this is not the case for a growing percentage of America's children. Juvenile obesity is epidemic and type 2 diabetes (once unheard of in children) is at a record high. We founded the Sylvia Center to give children real tools in the fight to eat right; and to begin to think about saying no to fast and processed foods. We tap into their natural curiosity about gardening -- but also into their taste buds.

We send them home with a newsletter and recipes so that the lessons the children are learning can be brought into the home - where the real difference in cooking and eating is made.

(When we can't bring NYC children to the farm, they can come to our kid's kitchen in SoHo and now we are just starting to go to them in their classrooms. Just this week we began a pilot program at Bronx Green, a 3-yr old public school offering garden based curricula in math, science and humanities. The school will install the first green rooftop on a Bronx public school, which will provide local produce for the program as well.)

Welcome to the universe of food politics and children. It quickly segue ways into a conversation about food access, health care and our nations food policy -- but we will leave that for another day.

The President and the First Lady will also benefit from the healthful workout that comes with weeding and tending to the garden. And in these times, it will be a great stress-reliever for our leader.

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