This summer camp is getting kids excited about good food

 
 Fresh Air Fund campers learn about where good food comes from by visiting Sharpe Reservation's model farm, garden, and nutrition center in Fishkill, New York. Photo credit: Alden Terry

Fresh Air Fund campers learn about where good food comes from by visiting Sharpe Reservation's model farm, garden, and nutrition center in Fishkill, New York. Photo credit: Alden Terry

Although it’s been around for more than two centuries, The Fresh Air Fund has recently rebranded itself with a slogan that embraces the future rather than harkening back to the past. Swapping “serving children since 1877” for “because a summer can last a lifetime” signifies the leap the program is making to keep up with the needs of children in today’s world. One of The Fund’s new core missions? Teaching campers about the importance of eating good food.

I recently took a trip to The Fresh Air Fund's Sharpe Reservation, which houses the program's five overnight camps. The kids delighted in meeting the animals on the model farm and making their own fresh-picked blueberry muffins. The camp's emphasis on educating children about good food is helping it address the lack of access to healthy, nutritious meals in New York City, the program's home base, which is estimated to affect about 1.2 million people-Katie Dolan

 The Fresh Air Fund is using its model farm, garden, and nutrition center to teach campers about where their food comes from and why organic, locally grown ingredients offer nutritious alternatives to fast food. At its farm, children get to interact with goats and pigs, see where the chickens lay their eggs, and even milk Shirley the cow. “That stuff?” asks one of the eight-year-old campers, giving the milk a side-eye when told it’s the same as what they pour onto their morning cereal. But all the kids agree that getting food directly from the animals living alongside them is “really cool,” and watching the hens lay eggs makes their eyes grow wide even as they hold their noses against the barn’s pungent smell. Photo credit: Alden Terry

The Fresh Air Fund is using its model farm, garden, and nutrition center to teach campers about where their food comes from and why organic, locally grown ingredients offer nutritious alternatives to fast food. At its farm, children get to interact with goats and pigs, see where the chickens lay their eggs, and even milk Shirley the cow. “That stuff?” asks one of the eight-year-old campers, giving the milk a side-eye when told it’s the same as what they pour onto their morning cereal. But all the kids agree that getting food directly from the animals living alongside them is “really cool,” and watching the hens lay eggs makes their eyes grow wide even as they hold their noses against the barn’s pungent smell. Photo credit: Alden Terry

 The garden is filled with flowers, vegetables, and herbs. After setting aside their original skepticism about whether it’s safe to eat things picked out of the ground, the campers taste a basil leaf and a mint sprig. After the first nibble, the problem is no longer convincing them to eat the leaves but instead making sure they don't eat everything as they learn about plants like lavender and feverfew. “My favorites are the plants you get to taste,” says eight-year-old Adreanna. “It’s crazy that you can just eat things right out of the ground. I knew that’s how food grows, but I never really thought about it before.” Photo credit: Alden Terry

The garden is filled with flowers, vegetables, and herbs. After setting aside their original skepticism about whether it’s safe to eat things picked out of the ground, the campers taste a basil leaf and a mint sprig. After the first nibble, the problem is no longer convincing them to eat the leaves but instead making sure they don't eat everything as they learn about plants like lavender and feverfew. “My favorites are the plants you get to taste,” says eight-year-old Adreanna. “It’s crazy that you can just eat things right out of the ground. I knew that’s how food grows, but I never really thought about it before.” Photo credit: Alden Terry

 Once berries and herbs have been picked from the garden, the campers head to the nutrition center, where they use their newly harvested ingredients to cook a healthy snack. Blueberry muffins are a favorite, resulting in sticky, juice-soaked fingers and smiles on blue-tinted lips. While waiting for the snacks to bake, campers learn about the nutritional make-up of what they are about to eat. The calories, sodium, and fat content of their muffins are compared to ones from chains like Dunkin’ Donuts or big brands like Hostess. A  homemade blueberry muffin  usually contains around 69 calories and 1 gram of fat, while  Dunkin’s version  has 460 calories and 16 grams of fat. Photo credit: Katie Dolan

Once berries and herbs have been picked from the garden, the campers head to the nutrition center, where they use their newly harvested ingredients to cook a healthy snack. Blueberry muffins are a favorite, resulting in sticky, juice-soaked fingers and smiles on blue-tinted lips. While waiting for the snacks to bake, campers learn about the nutritional make-up of what they are about to eat. The calories, sodium, and fat content of their muffins are compared to ones from chains like Dunkin’ Donuts or big brands like Hostess. A homemade blueberry muffin usually contains around 69 calories and 1 gram of fat, while Dunkin’s version has 460 calories and 16 grams of fat. Photo credit: Katie Dolan

 Helping campers see how easy it can be to create quick, healthy food with limited ingredients, and educating them about the way fast food chains and convenience stores use lower-quality, less healthy ingredients, allows the Fund to teach children from NYC’s low-income communities about why good food is better for them, and for the world. Even in the dining halls, when they aren’t cooking for themselves, campers are taught to be environmentally conscious and compost leftovers after every meal. For many, this is their first experience with concepts like calorie content and reducing food waste. Aspects of camp as simple as embracing a meal routine teach children skills that will last a lifetime. Photo credit: Katie Dolan

Helping campers see how easy it can be to create quick, healthy food with limited ingredients, and educating them about the way fast food chains and convenience stores use lower-quality, less healthy ingredients, allows the Fund to teach children from NYC’s low-income communities about why good food is better for them, and for the world. Even in the dining halls, when they aren’t cooking for themselves, campers are taught to be environmentally conscious and compost leftovers after every meal. For many, this is their first experience with concepts like calorie content and reducing food waste. Aspects of camp as simple as embracing a meal routine teach children skills that will last a lifetime. Photo credit: Katie Dolan


Katie Dolan is a News Fellow who is also working with The Fresh Air Fund in New York City. She reported on this story on recent trip to Sharpe Reservation with The Fund's campers.