Local highlight: food and garden education at the Allen Neighborhood Center

one of the greenhouse's customers

Lately I have been volunteering at an awesome place called the Allen Neighborhood Center on the east side of Lansing. They do a lot of amazing things to bring food access to this part of the city, including holding one of Lansing's few farmers markets, offering cooking and gardening workshops, and helping neighborhood residents get health care and food assistance. They also have a beautiful greenhouse in a nearby park, where staff and volunteers work to grow vegetables for a CSA.

CSAs are a great idea in general, because they offer fresh fruits and vegetables all spring and summer. But it's often hard for families to purchase one, since they require paying several hundred dollars at the beginning of the growing season. Allen Neighborhood Center's CSA attempts to eliminate that financial barrier, by offering several payment options, including monthly payments throughout the growing season, a reduction in price by volunteering in the greenhouse, and use of your Bridge card (aka food stamps).

And! My favorite part is the youth education that goes along with the growing of vegetables. The  center offers a free program twice a week after school, right in the greenhouse, called KidsTime. Neighborhood kids in grades K-5 can come, free of charge, to learn about healthy eating, exercise, and the food system. I've been going on Tuesdays to help out, and it's usually the highlight of my day. Last week their fabulous lead educator led the kids in a great activity - they split into groups to create their own smoothie recipe, then opened a "business" making and selling their unique smoothies to each other (using Monopoly money as currency). Afterwards, they reflected on why smoothies are a healthy snack, as well as the challenges of running a food business.

In past weeks kids have played vegetable Twister, made worm compost bins, and learned how to read nutrition labels. These activities are very similar to the ones I used to teach with Seven Generations Ahead, as well as in a class I taught in New York called "You Are What You Eat." As I've said before, food education is a vital part of getting kids to eat (and love) healthy food. These are the kinds of programs that need to be a regular part of classrooms across the country, not just in optional after-school classes. But until that's a reality, we need to continue to support wonderful initiatives like Allen Neighborhood Center's KidsTime. For more information on how to support them, see their website.

Photo source: Allen Neighborhood Center